Technical ReportPDF Available
Research report
January 2010
This report has been written by:
Kerstin Alfes, Kingston Business School
Catherine Truss, Kingston Business School
Emma C. Soane, London School of Economics and Political Science
Chris Rees, Royal Holloway, University of London
Mark Gatenby, University of Surrey
Executive summary 2
1 Introduction 4
2 The research study 5
3 Employee engagement in the UK 6
Case Study: ServiceCo 8
4 Engagement across different organisational contexts 12
Engagement strategies across the public and private sectors 12
Case Study: LocalGov 13
Engagement levels across the public and private sectors 16
Case Study: GovDep 18
5 Engaging different employees 21
6 Strategies for engagement 23
Meaningfulness 23
Case Study: ScienceCo 25
Management and leadership approaches 28
Perceptions of line managers 28
Perceptions of senior managers and employee engagement 29
Case Study: PlasticCo 30
Employee voice, involvement and communication 34
HR policies and practices 36
Case Study: EnvironmentCo 38
7 Outcomes of engagement 42
For organisations 42
Individual performance 42
Innovative work behaviour 43
Intention to stay 43
Case Study: NorthTrust 45
For individuals 49
Well-being 49
Sustainability 49
Case Study: ConstructionCo 51
8 Conclusions and management implications 55
9 References 57
10 Appendix 58
Methodology 58
Participants 59
Data analysis 60
We carried out research in eight organisations across the •
UK resulting in a dataset of 5,291 questionnaires and
around 180 interviews.
Our measure of engagement incorporates three •
dimensions: emotional or affective engagement; intellectual
or cognitive engagement; and social engagement, each
measured in terms of extent and frequency.
Overall, 8% of respondents in our sample are strongly •
engaged with their work, with the majority falling into an
intermediate category.
With respect to the frequency of engagement, 18% are •
engaged on a daily basis.
Comparisons across the three dimensions reveal that levels •
of social engagement are lowest.
Many organisations measure engagement and have •
specific engagement strategies across the public and
private sectors.
Public sector employees are more strongly but less •
frequently engaged than in the private sector.
Public sector employees show higher levels of social and •
intellectual engagement, whereas private sector employees
are more engaged affectively.
Comparisons across employee groups reveal a variety of •
interesting differences with respect to demographics and
job types.
Women are more engaged than men.•
Younger workers are less engaged than older workers.•
Those on flexible contracts are more engaged.•
Managers are more engaged than non-managers.•
Organisations can implement a range of workplace •
strategies that impact upon levels of engagement.
Meaningfulness is the most important driver of •
engagement for all employee groups.
Two-thirds of all respondents in our study find meaning in •
their work.
Senior management vision and communication is a key •
driver of engagement, whereas senior management
effectiveness is negatively related to employee engagement.
Positive perceptions of one’s line manager are strongly •
linked with engagement.
Respondents rate their line managers more positively •
compared with their senior managers, with 56% indicating
that they have a good relationship with their line manager.
Employee voice is a strong driver of engagement.
Just 34% of employees are the ‘vocal-involved’, who •
perceive their work as meaningful and have opportunities
to voice their views, yet this category of workers is the
most engaged.
Most employees have negative views about their •
organisation’s HR policies and practices.
HR practices do not impact directly on engagement; •
the relationship is mediated by person–job fit and line
management style.
Employee engagement is associated with a range of •
positive outcomes at the individual and organisational
Engaged employees perform better. •
The majority of our respondents were rated ‘good’ in their •
last appraisal.
Engaged employees are more innovative than others.•
Engaged employees are more likely to want to stay with •
their employer.
In our sample, 35% indicate that they would like to •
continue working for their employer for five or more years,
compared with 17% who want to leave within the next
two years.
Engaged employees enjoy greater levels of personal •
Engaged employees perceive their workload to be more •
sustainable than others.
One-third of employees are ‘fit-performers’, enjoying high •
levels of personal well-being and performing well.
Our data indicate that excessively high levels of •
engagement might lead to ill-health and burnout.
In our two-year research project we analysed levels of •
engagement across eight different organisations, which are
included as case studies in this report.
ServiceCo is a support services partner company with •
around 9,000 employees. An important factor influencing
levels of engagement is the extent to which employees
are given a platform to communicate their opinion
about work-related topics. Further challenges include
the integration of employees working remotely and the
engagement of manual workers.
Executive summary
LocalGov is one of the largest local authorities in the •
UK, employing more than 50,000 employees. In 2006,
LocalGov initiated a programme to empower employees
and increase their levels of engagement, which runs very
successfully. However, further improvements can be made
in terms of communicating with employees, especially
during change initiatives.
GovDep is a large government department that has been •
interested in employee engagement for several years. One
of the major strengths in this organisation is work–life
balance and the opportunities to work flexibly. An area for
improvement is the way leadership capacity is developed
within GovDep.
ScienceCo is a public sector organisation, supplying •
scientific information in the UK. Changes in the economic
climate prompted ScienceCo to launch a new initiative to
move from a very stable to a more dynamic workforce.
Employees at ScienceCo find their jobs highly meaningful;
however, senior management attitudes and behaviour
could be improved to further raise levels of engagement.
PlasticCo is a leading plastics manufacturer with a •
workforce of around 650 employees. Following the results
from their engagement survey, PlasticCo undertook a
major effort to change the culture and move towards a
more open and integrative management style.
EnvironmentCo is a leading recycling and waste •
management company in the UK, employing almost
12,500 people in the UK. A major strength within
EnvironmentCo is the clarity of objectives, as the vast
majority of employees feels that they are clear about the
tasks they have to perform to achieve their goals. An
important area for improvement are HR practices, as many
respondents express their dissatisfaction, especially with
training and development opportunities, and the career
and performance appraisal systems.
NorthTrust is an NHS foundation trust providing healthcare •
to a population of over 300,000 people. A consistently
positive finding is that employees are generally satisfied
working for the NHS. Future challenges for NorthTrust are
communication and leadership style.
ConstructionCo is an international consultancy and •
construction firm. The company benefits from its
entrepreneurial culture and the fair and consistent
management style. An area for improvement is work–life
balance as many employees feel compelled to work long
hours due to the sheer amount of work.
The main drivers for engagement in our study •
are meaningful work, voice, senior management
communication style and vision, supportive work
environment, person–job fit and line management style.
Understanding your workforce engagement profile is the •
first step to determining how to drive up engagement levels.
Engagement is clearly associated, both in our report and •
in other studies, with high levels of performance, reduced
intent to quit and raised levels of personal well-being. It
is therefore legitimate from a corporate perspective to
prioritise improving levels of employee engagement.
There is a clear need to help create meaning for employees •
in their work; this can be achieved intellectually by
articulating the links between individual jobs and the
broader organisational aims, and emotionally through
sharing an understanding of deeper levels of the purpose
of the organisation.
Employees need to be given opportunities to express •
their views and to know that their opinions will be taken
seriously. This is an activity that needs to involve both
senior and line managers. Our case studies provide some
examples of how organisations in the consortium have
achieved this.
Senior managers have an important role to play in •
creating a vision for the organisation and sharing this
with employees, and in being open, transparent and
Engagement levels are affected by the working •
environment. Where employees can see that they have
support from others to help them do their job, there is a
sense of teamwork and they can safely express themselves,
then engagement will be higher.
Matching people to jobs is a critical driver of engagement. •
This is one area where HR professionals can play an
important role helping line managers design jobs
effectively, and develop selection processes that match
individual skills to jobs.
Line managers act as the interface between the •
organisation and the employee, and can do much to
impact on engagement. Another key HR role is therefore
to pay close attention to the selection, development and
performance management of line managers to ensure they
maximise their potential to be engaging leaders.
The findings of the UK Government’s 2009 MacLeod Review
into employee engagement (MacLeod and Clarke 2009) have
underlined the critical role played by an engaged workforce
in both organisational success and individual well-being.
The study corroborates the findings of the earlier report
commissioned by the CIPD into employee engagement
(Gatenby et al 2009). This highlighted the relatively low levels
of engagement in the UK workforce generally, together
with evidence demonstrating the impact of engagement
on performance, quality, innovation, levels of absenteeism,
turnover and organisational advocacy. Engagement would
seem to be beneficial to both employers and employees, as
those with the highest levels of engagement also appear to
enjoy greater personal well-being.
However, despite these and other studies, it remains true
that, in theoretical, conceptual and empirical terms, we in
fact know relatively little about the concept of employee
engagement. Largely, this is because academic research has
lagged significantly behind the wealth of interest shown
by practitioners, HR professionals and consultants, who
have been much quicker to note the importance of this
relatively new concept. Consequently, many management
consultancies and survey firms have developed a definition of
employee engagement and associated measurement index,
while their academic colleagues have been much slower
off the mark and have thus far not agreed on a single,
theoretically derived and empirically validated definition
of engagement. In particular, we note one significant
discrepancy. Most consultancies and survey firms regard
engagement as something that is done to employees, in
other words, ‘a workplace approach designed to ensure that
employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and
values, motivated to contribute to organisational success,
and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of
well-being’ (MacLeod and Clarke 2009). In contrast, however
they may actually define engagement, academics tend to
agree that engagement is experienced by individuals, a state
of being that may be affected by management strategies
and approaches, but is not, in and of itself, such a strategy
(May et al 2004).
It is the latter view of engagement as a state experienced by
employees that has informed the work undertaken over the
past two years by the Employee Engagement Consortium
based in the Centre for Research in Employment, Skills and
Society (CRESS) at Kingston University. Working with the
CIPD and the ten members of the consortium, we have
undertaken a very thorough and detailed exploration of
employee engagement, its antecedents and consequences,
in a variety of different settings. Through this research, we
have developed a new definition and conceptualisation of
employee engagement that builds on prior academic studies
but extends them in important ways, and we have studied
the processes through which engagement levels can be
raised or lowered through the actions taken by managers.
We took as our starting point the first report we wrote on
engagement for the CIPD in 2006 (Truss et al 2006). In this
study, we were able to survey the views of 2,000 working
adults from across the UK. This investigation yielded some
important insights into engagement. However, we felt
that there were still some unanswered questions. Most
particularly, although the measure of engagement we used
in that report was helpful (May et al 2004), we wanted to
develop this conceptualisation further, drawing on wider
academic studies and empirical evidence. We also wanted to
explore, in more depth, how the engagement process works
across different sectors and types of organisation.
The following year, in 2007, with support from the CIPD, we
founded the Kingston Employee Engagement Consortium
project in collaboration with ten public and private sector
members. We set out to answer the following five questions:
1 What does engagement mean?
2 How can engagement be managed?
3 What are the consequences of engagement for
4 How does engagement relate to other individual
5 How is engagement related to employee voice and
We define employee engagement as: ‘being positively
present during the performance of work
by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing
positive emotions and meaningful connections to others.’
We see engagement as having three core facets:
intellectual engagement• , or thinking hard about the
job and how to do it better
affective engagement• , or feeling positively about doing
a good job
social engagement• , or actively taking opportunities to
discuss work-related improvements with others at work.
We also differentiate between the extent of engagement
– the strength of feeling engaged – and the frequency of
engagement – that is, how often individuals experience
engagement. This approach has been used in studies of
other psychological constructs such as burnout.
Thus, an engaged employee is someone who thinks hard
about their work, feels positive when they do a good job and
discusses work-related matters and improvements with those
around them.
This definition of engagement derives from the work of
earlier theorists and commentators such as Kahn (1990),
May et al (2004) and Schaufeli and Bakker (2004), all
of whom regard engagement as a psychological state
experienced by employees in relation to their work,
together with associated behaviours. Engagement therefore
has intellectual, emotional and behavioural dimensions.
Our definition of engagement draws specifically on the
work of Kahn (1990) in its incorporation of the concept
of social engagement, and suggests that the willingness
of employees to discuss work-related improvements
with those around them is an important dimension of
engagement and which serves to differentiate engagement
from other, similar constructs such as job satisfaction,
organisational citizenship behaviour and ‘flow’. It is
important to note that, following earlier theorists, our
concern is with an individual’s engagement with their
specific job, rather than with their organisation as a whole.
We would argue that these notions of organisational
commitment and advocacy are generally associated with
high levels of engagement, but are distinct from it.
Between 2007 and 2009, we collected data from eight
organisations. Our preliminary findings were published by
the CIPD in early 2009 (Gatenby et al 2009). In this, our final
report, we extend our interim report and present the overall
findings from this research project in the form of eight
detailed case studies, together with an analysis of our entire
dataset. Overall, we report on the findings of a study that
has involved 5,291 questionnaire respondents and around
180 interviews.
First, we explore differences in engagement across
organisational contexts and examine how different types
of employee (for example, men/women; managers/non-
managers) engage in their work. In the following section,
we explain the key drivers of engagement, before we
analyse the main outcomes of employee engagement at
an individual and organisational level. Finally, we introduce
our overarching model of engagement and highlight the
management implications arising from our findings. In the
Appendix, we explain the methodology used in our study.
The research study
We measured and analysed levels of engagement in a
number of different ways. Individuals were asked a series of
questions that were designed to evaluate how engaged they
are with their work, each using a five-point response scale.
These questions combine to create three separate scales each
measuring social, affective and intellectual engagement.
We measured these facets of engagement in terms of both
extent – that is how engaged the person is – and frequency
– that is how often they are engaged. We also analysed
our data in terms of the overall extent and frequency of
engagement, combining the three scales into an aggregate
measure of engagement. This means that we are able to talk
about engagement from various angles.
In terms of the overall extent of engagement, if we divide
our respondents into five categories corresponding to our
five-point response scale, we found that 8% of respondents
are ‘strongly engaged’ with their work (that is, scoring 4.5 or
over on the scale out of a possible 5). A further 70% can be
described as ‘moderately’ or ‘somewhat’ engaged (scoring
between 3.5 and 4.5 on the scale), and just 1% as very
weakly engaged, with the remaining 21% neither engaged
nor disengaged.
Our study is the first that has explored the frequency
with which people are engaged with their work, which
is an interesting addition to our understanding of how
engagement works in practice. We found that fewer than
one in five, 18%, are engaged on a daily basis. Fifty-nine
per cent report being engaged ‘once a week’, and 22% ‘a
few times a year’ or ‘once a month’, and just 1% report
‘never’ being engaged. These findings suggest that a
substantial majority of employees are not engaged with
their work on a daily basis but, equally, only a very small
number are never engaged.
If we plot extent of engagement versus frequency, we find
that just 5% of the sample overall can be described as very
highly engaged (scoring a very high 4.51 or over on both
extent and frequency). Conversely, just 4% report extremely
low levels of engagement (scoring 2.99 or below on the
extent and frequency scales).
Looked at in another way, the mean score for engagement
extent is 3.8 and for frequency 3.9 out of a possible 5.
Consequently, it would be true to say that the vast majority
of employees can be described as falling into an intermediate
category of engagement, which is largely what would be
expected. This suggests that there is still considerable scope
for organisations to raise levels of engagement overall.
We can break this down further by looking at the three
facets of engagement (see Table 1).
These findings comparing across the three facets of
engagement provide an interesting insight into how
engagement operates in practice. Scores for social
engagement are the lowest, which was reflected within each
of the organisations individually, both in terms of extent and
frequency. Levels of affective engagement are highest, with
intellectual engagement occupying an intermediate position.
The relatively low level of social engagement in terms of both
extent and frequency is of concern. Social engagement is a
measure of how much people at work participate in constructive
dialogue with those around them about their work or how to
improve working methods or skills. This is closely linked with
notions of organisational social capital, which suggests that one
of the most important resources at an organisation’s disposal
is the network of relationships both within the organisation
and beyond. Where levels of social engagement are low, this
may mean that organisations are not capitalising on the unique
strengths and knowledge of their workforce.
Table 1: Engagement extent and frequency (%)
(over 4.0 out of 5)
daily/once a week
(over 4.0 out of 5)
Social engagement 38 29
Affective engagement 58 77
Intellectual engagement 41 65
Employee engagement in the UK
However, overall, our findings broadly suggest that levels
of engagement are moderate–high in the sample of
organisations participating in our research. Of course, our
sample is self-selected and chose to be members of the
Employee Engagement Consortium, and so it is perhaps to
be expected that the overall level of engagement in these
organisations would be higher than average.
Nevertheless the findings are encouraging and compare
favourably with other studies into engagement levels. For
example, Truss et al (2006) found that 35% of employees
are actively engaged, with 57% moderately engaged.
Another study found that 29% of workers are engaged
and 17% disengaged (Seijts and Crim 2006). A study by
the Corporate Leadership Council (2004) found that just
24% of staff are highly engaged. The conclusion from the
MacLeod Review (2009) is that levels of engagement in the
UK workforce generally need to be raised. Although our
findings are more positive, it is still the case that levels of
engagement could be higher.
Why do studies of engagement reveal such a different
picture? There are two main reasons for this. First,
different studies use different questions to assess levels of
engagement, based on how engagement is defined and
operationalised. Measures of engagement that incorporate
questions around employees’ understanding and awareness
of organisational strategic objectives, for example, will
always yield a more negative response as many employees
lack this knowledge. However, it could be argued that this
does not reflect the psychological state of engagement per
se. Other studies, such as our report for the CIPD in 2006
(Truss et al – in this report we used the May et al (2004)
measure of employee engagement), include questions on
employees’ willingness to work overtime and take work
home with them. However, we did not include questions
such as these in this current measure, which is based on
work we have undertaken since 2006 on the topic of
engagement that extends prior understanding. We wanted
to include questions capturing the extent to which people
engage socially with their colleagues, feel positively about
their work and think hard about how to do their jobs better,
rather than focus on long working hours. It is perfectly
possible to be engaged with one’s work during working
hours, but not work excessive overtime. Long working
hours may be indicative of other factors, such as a culture
of presenteeism in the workplace. Whereas engagement is
associated with positive benefits for the individual, such as
enhanced well-being, workaholism has been found to be
linked with negative health outcomes.
The second reason that studies report differing levels of
engagement is that different scales are used to record
employees’ views and the data are analysed and coded
in different ways. Here, we use a standard approach
recommended for academic research, giving respondents five
possible responses to each question. This is one of the most
common ways of recording and coding employees’ views.
These divergent approaches to conceptualising, measuring
and reporting on engagement can create a confusing
picture for managers wishing to understand engagement
and develop strategies for raising levels of engagement
amongst their workforce. Everyone will form their own
views as to how best to measure the engagement levels of
their own employees based on what is important to them.
It is, however, interesting that whatever the measure of
engagement used, the range of drivers and outcomes of
engagement tend to be quite similar across different studies,
and the general conclusion is that the majority of employees
are moderately engaged with scope to raise levels of
engagement overall.
Eight per cent are strongly engaged with their work,
with the majority falling into an intermediate category.
Eighteen per cent are engaged ‘daily’.
Our measure of engagement incorporates three
dimensions: emotional or affective engagement;
intellectual or cognitive engagement; and social
engagement, each measured in terms of extent and
Levels of social engagement are lowest.
ServiceCo is a support services partner in the UK providing
business solutions for clients across the local government,
transport, education, health and defence sectors. As a part
of a large European infrastructure and services group, the
company employs around 10,500 employees and is present
in over 200 locations within the UK. In 2008, ServiceCo had
a turnover of £1.49 billion and a profit of £86.5 million.
ServiceCo’s vision is about transforming the nature of
services to the public. A strategy has been developed to
implement this vision, which focuses on being engaged
throughout all work processes. Hence, ServiceCo encourages
employees to take every opportunity to ‘go the extra
mile’ for the customer. ServiceCo has been interested in
engagement for several years. The company launched its
first employee engagement survey in 2006 and has been
conducting engagement surveys once a year since then. The
surveys have been supported by action plans around the
key issues arising. ServiceCo joined the Kingston University
Employee Engagement Consortium to get a more detailed
understanding of levels of engagement across different
groups of the diverse workforce.
A total of 2,500 employees working for ServiceCo in the
UK were encouraged to participate in the study. Those with
email access (1,500 employees) were invited to complete
an online questionnaire survey. A further 1,000 employees
without Internet access were given a paper version of
the questionnaire. A total of 1,157 questionnaires were
returned, providing a response rate of 46%. Additionally, 33
interviews with managers and employees were carried out.
The results of the survey suggest that employees at
ServiceCo generally have very high levels of engagement.
Nine per cent are very strongly engaged and 77% are
strongly engaged. Fourteen per cent have a moderate level
of employee engagement.
‘I think on the whole most people would generally care
about what they do and the company they work for. I think
in my experience and the people I know and I work with,
it’s not just a salary, it’s not just a job, they do believe in
the company and their division and the work that they do.’
Development manager
Overall engagement frequency is even higher among
employees at ServiceCo, with 19% being engaged on a daily
basis and 66% being engaged once a week. Fourteen per
cent are engaged once a month and only 1% said they are
engaged only a few times a year. A director reflects upon the
high levels of engagement and at the same time points out
that it is important to continuously strive for higher levels.
‘ServiceCo does have an engaged workforce but you can
always engage more.’ Director
In the next sections we will consider three areas that are
contributing to high levels of engagement in ServiceCo
employee voice, supportive environment and commitment – and
three areas where there is still some room for improvement
engagement among manual workers, integration of workers
working remotely and well-being in some roles.
Figure 1: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at ServiceCo (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
One of the most important factors impacting upon the high
levels of employee engagement at ServiceCo is the extent
to which employees participate in meetings and decisions
that are directly related to their job and are given a platform
to communicate their opinion about work-related topics.
Most employees feel highly involved in work-related matters,
could give their opinion and are listened to by management.
‘I think that culture encourages upward communication,
because I think people are very approachable.’ Director
‘We can always come up with something and it’s taken
through and it’s dealt with. I certainly know on the projects
they have regular meetings with the side teams where
anyone who comes up with any initiatives or ideas, they are
always received and welcomed.’ Supply chain manager
ServiceCo has implemented an innovation library as one
initiative to foster engagement across the organisation.
The programme encourages employees to share success
stories and ideas for improvement and relies on innovation
champions who capture new ideas and feed them back
into the innovation library. The innovation library is well
received among office-based staff; however, as the following
manager points out, ServiceCo could make even more use
of this tool if operational roles could be informed about the
innovation library and encouraged to use it more frequently.
‘We have got a best practice library with a lot of information.
I think office-based staff probably [use it] because they know
about it. I would query if operatives knew that we had an
innovation forum to put their ideas forward to.’
Marketing manager
Another great strength at ServiceCo is the level of support
in the working environment. This refers to the level of
teamwork. As many employees at ServiceCo work in teams,
a supportive working environment is important as it enables
employees to feel comfortable at work and therefore
has a major impact on levels of engagement. Employees
at ServiceCo are very satisfied with the support they get
from their colleagues in carrying out their jobs. They feel
that colleagues help each other out whenever someone
is experiencing a problem, and that generally all team
members are committed to achieving common team goals.
‘Everybody is easy to get on with. Everybody works as a
team; we’re all trying to achieve common goals. From other
organisations I’ve worked in there was what I call politicking
but there’s very little politicking within ServiceCo. Everybody
has got a common objective, common understanding and
people work in different ways and you need to understand
that but it’s very friendly, very approachable.’ Director
‘I think there’s a real teamwork ethos on a number of the
contracts.’ Director
Most employees also feel very comfortable saying that they
could ‘be themselves’ at work.
‘I’ve always found it a very, very comfortable working
environment with people I can actually get on with.’
‘Within my department, we’re almost like a family, we look
after each other, we’re very good at making sure everybody’s
okay.’ Supply chain manager
‘I think the energy and the commitment that you get from
individuals from being part of a team far outweighs the
energy of the individuals as individual parts as it were.’
Following the positive comments above it is not surprising to
find that ServiceCo employees have high levels of commitment
to their department. Many employees indicate that they
experience a strong sense of belonging to their department and
would be happy to spend the rest of their career there. The high
levels of commitment are closely associated with the good levels
of teamwork and clearly contribute to the organisations high
levels of engagement. Many employees are committed to do a
good job and put a lot of effort into their work.
‘You go to any of our schools and you will find the cleaners
are all very, very committed; if they can’t do something to
the best of the quality that they want they get concerned
about it.’ Director
‘Generally, we have a very committed workforce who will
stay here as long as there is a job to be done.’ Manager
Commitment levels with respect to ServiceCo as a whole are
slightly lower, but still on a satisfactory level. A good part
of the workforce feels emotionally attached to ServiceCo
and are proud to work for the organisation. Therefore,
many employees do recommend ServiceCo as a good place
to work to friends and family. This is mainly attributed to
the development opportunities available and because they
consider ServiceCo a ‘very dynamic and exciting place to be’.
Hence, related to the high commitment, employees show a
very good level of advocacy for their company.
‘I think there are currently five people who are working in
ServiceCo that I have recommended.’ Director
‘People who work here will get people into the business,
either friends or family even. I have a father and son team
working for me within my team.’ Manager
Although engagement levels at ServiceCo are generally very
high, manual workers are significantly less engaged than other
employee groups within the company. This finding is consistent
with other companies employing manual workers and
ServiceCo are ready to address this within the coming months.
Manual workers at ServiceCo indicated some major points of
dissatisfaction. When asked about what could be improved
in their working life, they expressed a need to improve
communication between the workforce and management.
‘[The one thing which would help improve my working
life is] better communications between employees and
managers.’ Manual worker
‘Communications with my line manager and project
manager are very good, communications with higher
management are less effective.’ Manual worker
‘It would be nice for the senior management to meet the
staff.’ Manual worker
‘Understanding by senior managers of how difficult the job
can be would improve my working life.’ Manual worker
Manual workers at ServiceCo also indicated that they would
like to get involved more in decision-making and also would
like to get more training to improve the way they are working.
‘[I would like] to learn more skills.’ Manual worker
‘To better me for the job the organisation should provide me
with regular training in health and safety, new techniques of
machinery and IT literacy.’ Manual worker
Further topics arose around the quality of the equipment,
the role of line managers and better work–life balance. As
a result of the lower levels of engagement among manual
workers, ServiceCo has put an action plan in place to
improve the work experience of manual workers.
A second area for improvement, which is closely related to
the previous topic, is about employees working remotely. As
ServiceCo is present in over 200 locations across the UK, many
employees work in small teams at some distance from the
head office. In the survey, many remotely working employees
feel that they received little attention and information from
the head office. They indicate a strong preference to see their
managers more often to increase mutual understanding of
work objectives and work environment, raise awareness of
problems occurring on remote jobs, and discuss new ideas or
areas for improvement.
‘We’re out on a limb in the north of England and we very
rarely have senior management come and visit so we don’t
feel part of the whole with ServiceCo. It would be nice to see
more engagement from the senior management.’ Manager
‘You do hear of people who don’t get communicated to and
feeling left out and I don’t know whether it’s the barriers
or it’s the managers or whether they’re not given the talks,
which may be the case. It’s especially in remote areas it could
be that there’s more work to do there.’ Manager
The implication of having employees working remotely and
the difficulties in managing them are also recognised by
some top managers.
‘Communication is not a challenge but something we have
to work very hard at because we employ 8,500 people
within the group and many of those are part-timers that are
very remote from head office and quite remote from their
contract bases.’ Director
‘I encourage face-to-face meetings. I have two senior
managers that work for me and even though the teams
are quite remote they will meet with them on a face-to-
face basis as regularly as possible, given the constraints of
travelling of course.’ Director
‘I just think it’s down to the simple kind of human need
for that kind of contact and it is more difficult if you are
managing remotely. It requires people to be more mature in
their attitude and more self-contained and not everybody is
like that.’ Director
However, although individual top managers are aware of
these challenges and take necessary steps to integrate
remote workers by making efforts to meet them regularly,
ServiceCo would benefit from organisation-wide processes
considering the management of remote workers.
In general, employees at ServiceCo experience high levels of
personal well-being. A large majority of staff feel that their
work is highly sustainable and they are therefore able to
continue working at their current pace. However, comparing
the levels of well-being across different groups at ServiceCo
reveals that contract managers experience significantly higher
levels of stress. They feel burned out more often and also have
a less favourable work–life balance. The reason for the high
workload is that on top of being involved in managing their
own contract, especially the most experienced and hard-
working contract managers are often drawn into bidding for
new contracts. Although employees generally like the team
effort and the atmosphere during bidding periods, which they
describe as motivating and exciting, the work–life balance
goes wrong when they are involved in too many bids during
the year.
‘I think people are willing to go the extra mile to put in the
bid, they can be very hectic and very time-consuming and
a lengthy process and I think that when push comes to
shove people are willing to help out, step in and do what’s
needed for the company and their team and for themselves.’
‘The work–life balance sometimes goes wrong, particularly
around bids going in, you know they get very intense when
there are very significant bids going in, so the work–life
balance probably goes the wrong way.’ Director
‘We have gone through a period where we have been
extremely stretched with the amount of bids that we’ve
done and last year I think I’ve been involved with six, seven
bids and some of these have been long days, long weeks,
long months. Not only that, in my area I’ve had one contract
that was not performing terribly well so we’ve been looking
to improve the performance of that during the last year.’
‘When there’s a lot of bidding it’s really poor, you have no
life.’ Manager
ServiceCo should therefore monitor these roles more closely
to ensure that contract managers can cope with work
demands, and measures such as stress management training
courses and health initiatives should be considered where
potential problems arise.
Fifty years ago, the American political scientist Wallace Sayre
(1958) argued that public and private organisations are
‘fundamentally alike in all unimportant respects’. Since then,
organisations have been transformed by new technologies,
financial systems and management methods. In recent
years, public organisations have been encouraged to
become more ‘business-like’ by adopting the management
style and processes used in private organisations (Boyne
et al 1999). Research conducted by the CIPD has shown
that work practices, such as carefully planned recruitment
and selection, targeted training and equitable rewards, are
significant drivers for organisational success. These practices
are increasingly being implemented by managers in both the
public and private sectors.
As this report shows, employee engagement has emerged as
a useful way to measure the relationship between employee
and employer. In this section, we compare the engagement
levels of employees across the public and private sectors.
We draw on the evidence from three public organisations
– an NHS trust, local authority and central government
agency – and five private sector organisations – including
manufacturing and service industries. In particular, we
consider similarities in the experience of work and explore
how organisational context may contribute to differences in
engagement levels.
Our research reveals that organisations in many parts of the
UK economy are actively pursuing strategies to raise levels of
employee engagement. The management initiatives we have
observed take many different forms, paralleling the diversity of
organisational needs. As the MacLeod Review recommended,
organisations need to find their own definition and approach
contingent with organisational context (MacLeod and Clarke
2009). We have observed two broad trends across the public
and private sectors (Boyne 2002).
First, we found that many organisations now regard
measures of engagement as the most significant measure of
employee attitudes or experience. Based on either a single
question or several questions to make a composite measure,
engagement has been incorporated into annual employee
attitude surveys. For example, the NHS annual survey
includes questions such as ‘I am enthusiastic about my
job’, ‘time passes quickly when I am working’ and ‘I often
do more than is required’. The Civil Service has a measure
of engagement based on the ‘say, stay and strive’ model.
Related survey questions focus on employee advocacy
and whether employees are happy to remain with their
organisation for the foreseeable future. Many organisations
in the private sector are also incorporating measures of
engagement into annual surveys. We have seen evidence
of this in small, medium and large companies and across
different industries.
Second, ‘engagementhas been used within organisations
as a more general term to describe workplace approaches
to improvement. For example, several private companies
we studied used suggestion schemes under the banner of
engagement. A local authority we studied is using an ambitious
programme of employee involvement to engage staff. Often,
engagement initiatives are linked to training and mentoring.
Our research suggests that there are no consistent or
distinctive differences between public and private sector
strategies around employee engagement. In some cases,
there are more similarities between sectors than within
them. Particular initiatives depend on senior management
style and corporate strategy, but also on the size of the
organisation, the type of workforce (for example skill level)
and the type of work (for example work environment and
location). Furthermore, external assistance is often provided
by management consultancy and research organisations,
in which case, particular approaches in both the public and
private sectors reflect the preferred method of the consulting
firm. Individual organisations have tended to give their
employee engagement strategies distinctive branding, but
the details and underlying initiatives are often very similar.
One difference we did find was that public organisations are
more likely to share and collaborate with the development of
engagement methods. We found examples of groups being
set up within local government, the NHS and the civil service,
where managers are coming together to discuss employee
engagement and sharing ideas for improvement. This has
tended not to be the case in the private sector, where
competitive pressures mean companies are more likely to
pursue their own approach, often at considerable cost.
Engagement across different
organisational contexts
With more than 50,000 employees, LocalGov is one
of the largest local authorities in the UK. Many local
services are managed in ten geographic constituencies
and decentralisation of duties is supposed to continue in
the future. In collaboration with the community and local
strategic partners, LocalGov has developed a strategic
vision for the city, which centres around ‘being a global city
with a local heart’. LocalGov has identified several areas of
improvement to turn the vision into reality and works closely
with its partners to achieve this.
The council has undergone significant changes and
restructuring initiatives in the past. A major change involved
the revision and alignment of pay structures in accordance
with new national guidelines following the Single Status
Agreement, which was signed between local government
and trade unions in 1997 to streamline all pay scales into
one. Further changes will follow over the next few years.
In 2006, internal employee surveys indicated that employees
at LocalGov felt disempowered and were not very motivated.
As a response to these findings, LocalGov became interested
in the topic of employee engagement and decided to initiate
the BEST (Belief – Excellence – Success – Trust) programme.
This council-wide initiative aimed at involving employees
in change management and decision-making by running
workshops and empowering teams. The central idea behind
BEST is to give employees a voice and provide them with a
platform where they can give their opinion and share ideas
for improvement. The initiative is generally well received
from the employees; however, they also point out areas that
still need more development.
‘The BEST team are really, really working hard to do it, because
things have come and gone before. So I think it is starting to
embed itself. There’s still a huge amount of cynicism out there
and it’s so important to get it seen as something thats integral
as opposed to yet another thing we’ve got to tick the box on.
But I think it’s moving that way but then you see I’m closer to it
than other people.’ Policy manager
‘If you’ve got enthusiastic leaders then it seems to work. Last
year we had a leader that wasn’t particularly enthusiastic
and nothing seemed to be carried forward from that. I think
it is very indicative of who you’ve got doing the team leader
role.’ Team manager
Following the launch of the BEST programme, LocalGov
decided to join the Kingston University Employee
Engagement Consortium to further strengthen their
knowledge about engagement and identify areas that could
be further improved to strengthen levels of engagement
across the workforce.
All employees working for LocalGov in the UK were invited
to participate in the engagement survey. A total of 1,198
questionnaires were returned, providing a response rate
of 2.4%. Additionally, 21 face-to-face interviews were
conducted with different managers, including HR managers,
team managers and service area managers.
The results of the survey indicate that LocalGov generally
has an engaged workforce. Seventy-five per cent of the
respondents indicate that they are strongly engaged and
7% are very strongly engaged. Seventeen per cent have a
moderate level with respect to the engagement extent. In
terms of engagement frequency, the results are similarly
positive, with 17% being engaged daily and 65% being
engaged on a weekly basis.
‘Oh most of them would go the extra mile, there’s probably a
couple who wouldn’t but the majority of them would always
go the extra mile.’ Team manager
‘Eighty per cent [really care about job]. I know that for some
of them, if we’d have been high up on that list of closures,
it would have really affected them, particularly some of the
older ones who just want to get to retirement now and enjoy
the job they’re doing and do it quite well.’ Team manager
The high levels of engagement in LocalGov are closely
related to the nature of work and the ethos of being a local
government employee. As one manager puts it: ‘It’s the
nature of the work as well, if you’re dealing face to face with
the public or you’re a social worker or a childcare worker, so
there’s that element.’
In this case study we will consider which engagement-related
aspects LocalGov is managing well – job-related skills and
flexible working opportunities – but also discuss which other
engagement strategies could be implemented to further
raise levels of employee engagement among the workforce –
communication, appraisal process.
One of the biggest strengths within LocalGov that clearly
contributes to the level of engagement is a close match
between the content of the individual roles and their
level of skills. Almost two-thirds of respondents feel
that they possess the necessary skills to carry out their
job at the required standards. Employees appreciate the
amount of training they are provided with, which they
feel is exceptionally high compared to other organisations,
especially in a difficult economic climate.
‘Yes, most of them [are right for their job], they’re quite
good. What we find though is that as technology moves on
we need to keep up to date you know and as new things
come out, in the IT world that’s very regular and so people
need to be acquiring skills. So for us training is quite a critical
thing.’ Service manager
‘Training is offered, it must be one of the few organisations
that still places a great emphasis on training its employees
because the first thing in a recession that goes is the training
budget, isn’t it?’ Head of service
‘The training opportunities, I wouldn’t have got them
anywhere else.’ Head of unit
Flexible working opportunities have been linked to high
levels of engagement in many studies. LocalGov offers a
variety of opportunities for their employees to work flexibly.
As one HR manager explained, LocalGov tries to comply
with all employee requests within the limits set by the need
for service within the council. Flexi-time is the most popular
working arrangement employees apply for and about
two-thirds of the respondents have the possibility to work
under a flexi-time arrangement. Other popular working
arrangements include homeworking, shorter working weeks,
annualised or compressed hours and term-time contracts.
‘The head-office-based staff, we try and fit in with what
people want. If they want to do a nine-day fortnight, we try
and arrange that.’ Head of service
‘I think generally we encourage flexible working. There’s
nothing about what I see that doesn’t realise that people
need to be flexible.’ Manager
‘Flexible working arrangements for people who need it,
they’re quite sympathetic to people’s needs.’ Manager
Figure 2: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at LocalGov (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
But also within the regular set of working hours, managers
have some discretion to give employees some flexibility if
needed, which is also appreciated by the employees.
‘If ever my son is ill and I ring up and saylook we’re taking
him to the doctor,” I would never get awell, that’s not
acceptable.” I’ve always, always had a positive response in
that regard and I likewise would do the same with my staff.’
‘If they want to take some of their time owed, time in lieu I
always try and help them, so I guess there’s flexibility there.’
There are many changes and restructuring initiatives
going on at LocalGov. In general, employees feel that
communication processes around these changes do not
always function optimally. For example, a major change had
been reported in the media before the news of the change
had been given to the workforce, so that the staff got their
information from a local newspaper. Employees indicate that
they often were not informed thoroughly about the details
of the change and were only given information sporadically
instead of on a regular basis. Also, employees perceive
communication as inconsistent across different teams
depending on the level of information and communication
abilities of their respective line manager.
‘We’ve all had a briefing that explained why the restructure
was taking place. The only problem is the length of time, I
mean we’re talking about April and this was October time
that this was communicated to us. And it’s a long time to
have in the back of your mind – “what’s going to happen,
what’s going to happen?”’ Team manager
‘So you’d report back and I know some managers just didn’t
report back to their staff, didnt tell them what was going on at
all and didn’t make any attempt to interpret it.’ Unit manager
Consequently, communication processes around the
restructuring and downsizing of the workforce have a
somewhat negative effect on the relationship between
managers and employees. Trust between both has worsened
considerably following the changes, which impacts levels of
engagement among the workforce.
‘I think a lot needs to be done on trust, working on trust.
In fact we had a conversation about that this morning at
one of the meetings we had, you know that there’s still
huge amounts to do to actually empower and build the
self-esteem of the staff, you know it’s a uphill battle really
and particularly when messages are coming out from the
leadership about, you know, flex systems, getting rid of
middle management, sloth, getting rid of sloth, you know,
so I think there’s messages that are not about trust.’
Policy manager
Although HR practices and policies are perceived well within
LocalGov, the appraisal process is a concern throughout
the organisation. Almost half of the respondents indicate
that they are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with
their appraisal process. One of the major concerns is
that objectives are often abstract and not broken down
adequately to the individual level.
‘The council has very aspirational, abstract objectives which
I don’t really know what they mean. We’re going to have a
“greener city”, well what does that mean? They’re sound-
bites, they’re political sound-bites. From a practical point of
view, to convert that into something that’s meaningful to
the staff, that’s very difficult. So I think one big improvement
would be to have clearer meaningful objectives set by the
council that can be more easily interpreted and adopted by,
you know, as this thing cascades down. So that’s a practical
problem I find.’ Manager
Managers are unhappy with the appraisal process as well.
They feel that it was too rigid and does not allow for enough
flexibility. They also respond that they do not have enough
time to effectively conduct an appraisal with all team
‘Performance management is not very successful because it’s
very prescriptive at the moment, although again it’s going
through a review at the moment so it may improve. But at
the moment it’s very prescriptive, you have to have done x, y,
z by this time and if you haven’t there’s no leeway whereas
everybody develops at different levels, at different speeds
and in different ways and if you could be more flexible in
the way that you can develop the members of staff then it
would be more effective.’ Team manager
We now consider what our research can tell us about
differences in engagement levels across public and private
organisations. Here we distinguish between engagement
‘extent’the overall strength of experience – and engagement
‘frequency– how often employees feel engaged at work. The
results suggest that public sector employees are slightly more
engaged on the extent measure, with 72% being engaged
compared with 69% in the private sector. However, the
difference is small. When looking at the frequency measure,
there is a more pronounced difference, with private sector
employees being engaged more often. Twenty per cent of
private sector employees say they are engaged every day,
whereas 16% of public sector employees feel this way. We can
look into these findings in more detail by considering how the
different dimensions of engagement social, intellectual and
affective – compare between the two sectors.
Our findings for social engagement suggest that employees
in public organisations experience a stronger connection
to work colleagues and with more frequency than those
in the private sector. For instance, public organisations are
more likely to have cross-department meetings to discuss
problems and potential solutions. Government organisations
at both local and central levels are keen to get teams and
departments actively thinking about solving local problems
through improvement initiatives such as ‘lean’.
One possible reason for this is the inherent ‘openness’ and
‘permeability’ of public organisations. In contrast to private
organisations, where it is possible to create a relatively direct
organisational hierarchy in which senior managers enjoy
considerable decision-making power, public organisations
must keep their boundaries open to the scrutiny of politicians
and the public. We found that it is often the role of public
managers to promote organisational communication and
knowledge-sharing, frequently through the use of IT. Public
organisations are increasingly looking to consult and involve
their employees in a way that is enhancing the transparency of
organisational processes. Furthermore, the interdependence of
many public organisations, such as civil service agencies, may
create a need for public organisations to collaborate more
than private organisations. Although there has been a move
towards targets, league tables and public ‘choice’ throughout
English public services in particular, there is significantly less
competition than in the private sector, where companies
compete for limited market share.
Although public organisations display higher levels of social
engagement than their private sector counterparts, this
does not mean public organisations are all highly effective
at socially engaging their staff. We saw instances of low
take-up of involvement initiatives among some employees
in both local and central government. In particular,
managers reported that because of the permeability of some
government workplaces, employees had become apathetic
to the influence of involvement initiatives. Organisations in
the public sector have more formal procedures for decision-
making, and are less flexible and more risk-averse than their
private sector counterparts. Conversely, private organisations
are less likely to place significant emphasis on knowledge-
and idea-sharing but, in the pockets where this is occurring,
it is often more successful due to the flexibility and control of
senior managers.
The findings for affective engagement suggest that private
sector employees are more strongly and more frequently
emotionally connected to their work. This finding may
stand in contrast to theoretical predictions of ‘public service
motivation’ – the idea that public sector employees are
intrinsically motivated by a concern to serve public citizens.
For example, we might expect the prime motivation for
clinical staff working in the NHS to be the immediate
health needs of patients under their care. While public
sector employees do show a strong emotional attachment
to their work, private employees appear to experience
a stronger connection. A possible explanation for this is
again the competitive pressure of private sector working
environments. Rather than through a concern for service
users, private sector employees must face constant pressures
to survive economically in the marketplace, which can place
a psychological burden on them. We spoke to employees
who felt a persistent emotional pressure to take work home
because of work demands and the competitive culture of
their organisation.
Our interviews with staff suggested that workloads are
increasing in many areas of the public and private sectors,
with particular strain being placed on first-line managers.
The time-frame of our research has picked up the effects of
the economic recession on employee experiences. This has
had a more immediate effect in the private sector over the
last few years but is likely to have increasing ramifications for
public employees in the near future.
The results suggest, on average, that public sector employees
are more strongly and frequently intellectually engaged than
private sector employees. This measure varies widely in both
sectors depending on the type of work and the seniority of
staff. Senior managers are almost always more intellectually
engaged than junior staff. We found that employees in
manufacturing and administrative roles are often the least
engaged on the extent measure and that professional
groups, such as hospital physiotherapists or accountants,
tend to be more engaged.
This research has suggested that employee experiences
across public and private organisations are becoming
increasingly alike. There are few consistent differences
in engagement strategies and initiatives between the
two sectors, and survey evidence shows that the overall
engagement levels are comparable. If Wallace Sayre
could comment today, he might argue that public and
private organisations are becoming alike in all important
respects. Nevertheless, we have found some differences
in the dimensions of engagement. In particular, public
organisations are more likely to engage their staff socially
whereas private organisations provide an environment where
employees are more likely to be emotionally engaged.
In the next section, we explore the relationship between
individual factors, such as age, gender, job status and
contractual arrangements, and employee engagement.
Many organisations measure engagement and have
specific engagement strategies across the public and
private sectors.
Public sector employees are more strongly but less
frequently engaged than private sector employees.
GovDep is a large government department that covers
several customer-facing business areas. This case study is
based on one of the larger agencies within the department.
The agency has offices in various locations across England,
including the south-east, the midlands and the north. Core
values of the agency include ensuring an accurate, rapid and
joined-up service based around customer need; improving
value for money for the taxpayer; and reducing levels of
service error. At the time of the survey, the agency employed
over 16,000 people and their services are used by around
15 million customers in the UK.
The agency has recently undergone considerable change as a
result of a merger between two previously separate business
units. This has led to a new management structure and
around 1,000 job cuts. Like many areas of the civil service,
there is an efficiency drive with overall reduction in financial
allocation for the next three years.
The department has been interested in employee
engagement for several years. This interest stems from
a drive to renew employment practices and processes as
part of a wider agenda of government modernisation. The
agency now conducts an annual staff survey that feeds
into improvement activities and has an increased focus
on employee involvement initiatives. The majority of the
agency’s employees work in an office environment. There
is an emphasis on employee development, coaching and
teamwork. There is also careful attention paid to diversity
and equal opportunities. Sickness absence rates have been
relatively high in the agency over recent years and a new
performance standard for sickness has been put in place
with the aim to reduce sickness absence to fewer than 8.3
average working days.
GovDep joined the Kingston Business School Employee
Engagement Consortium to help develop new initiatives
around employee engagement as part of recent changes
in the agency. The department already has a policy on
engagement and this research process is intended to feed
into that work. The engagement research was conducted in
two stages. First, a sample of 1,400 employees was invited
to complete an online questionnaire. From this sample,
571 online questionnaires were returned, providing a total
response rate of 41%. Second, 20 face-to-face interviews
were conducted with a range of managerial staff.
There are standardised management grades across the
agency, including: Executive Officer (EO), which is the first
management level responsible for teams of operational staff;
Higher Executive Officer (HEO), which is the next level up
from EO and has responsibility for groups of operations or
decision-making teams; Senior Executive Officer (SEO), which
has responsibility for wider units of operation; and Grade 7,
which is a middle management grade.
The results of the survey suggest that GovDep has a generally
engaged workforce. Seventy per cent are ‘highlyor ‘very highly
engaged overall. Twenty-nine per cent are moderate or unsure,
while very few people had low levels of engagement. Findings
with respect to engagement frequency are similar. Almost 70%
are engaged on a regular basis; however, 28% engage only
once a month. These results may in part reflect the uncertainty
at this time of change within the organisation. Early analysis of
the data from GovDep uncovered two main areas of strength
that contribute to engagement work–life balance and a
supportive social environment and two areas that could benefit
from some attention to improve engagement leadership
development and employee involvement uptake.
Figure 3: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at GovDep (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
Work–life balance is a considerable strength in the
organisation. This was praised by many managers and scored
highly in the employee survey. The flexi-time system is the
jewel in the crown of employee practices at GovDep. Staff
can accrue up to four days of flexi per month within the
core hours of 7am–7pm. Interviewees felt that this is a main
attraction for staying at the organisation, particularly for
people with family responsibilities such as childcare:
‘I think that’s one of the plusses really in the civil service, the
work–life balance. The flexi is something that I think most
people would be lost without and that’s one of the things
that maybe they look for from other things really, the flexi
and I mean I think it’s 37 hours a week we work, which is
not that bad really and with flexi, that you can have flexi,
afternoons off, you know, a day off.’ EO
Research participants report that the attention to work–life
balance meant that individual workers could create a work
pattern that was most appropriate to them. For example,
one manager said that some staff prefer a late start, so they
work an 11am–7pm pattern, whereas others like getting in
at 7am every day.
Another main strength at GovDep is the level of social
support in the working environment. If employees are
struggling with their workload, then their team members
and immediate line manager will pick this up and try
to provide them with the help needed to improve their
‘I mean most managers who I’ve worked for have been
supportive. I think the support you get with regards to, sort
of like, meeting targets and things…you know, I’ve worked
a lot in the outside industry and I think as an employer, I can
only think of one employer that was better than [GovDep].’
HEO – operations
Most interviewees feel that there is a strong sense of
teamwork in the organisation. However, there are some
signs of change in this respect due to the job cuts across
the agency. With the threat that some people within teams
will lose their jobs or be relocated, individual team members
were behaving more competitively towards their colleagues
and not helping them out as much as they would normally.
An issue of concern at GovDep is the way leadership
capacity is developed. There is a feeling that often individuals
are promoted into EO or HEO positions without having the
core set of management skills, particularly interpersonal and
mentoring skills.
‘Give them the managers’ skills to manage people and make
them people-focused, they need to be able to see that they
can get more done by involving the staff…We do need
technical experts but not in management. Look at what
management training we’re actually giving to them, not this
e-learning as it goes on.’ HEO
A common concern is the type of training people were
given. GovDep makes use of ‘e-learning’ techniques for
training where individuals can take a course on topics such
as coaching or appraisals from the comfort of their work
desks. However, this is seen as an ineffective way to learn
new skills because it lacked people interaction and what
people called a ‘learning environment’. One manager
commented that you can put a sticker on your chair to show
people that you are training, but this does not take you
out of the busy and distracting office environment. They
reflected that it was very difficult to learn management skills
from the computer screen. The agency does provide other
types of training, including face-to-face classroom training,
as part of an overall ‘blended learning’ approach.
A related problem is the lack of performance management
skills at some management levels and the ability of managers
to deal with underperformance. Although, as discussed
above, there are good levels of support within the office
environment, there is a reluctance or lack of ability to make
difficult decisions and motivate consistent underperformers.
‘So I don’t know whether or not even the team leaders have
succumbed to the personality of the team members within
the team and I suspect there’s a little bit of that because
there seems to be a lot of…rather than leading the team,
being part of the team, too many soft decisions are made to
keep the peace.’ HEO
Some feel that this is symptomatic of the wider culture
within the agency of not dealing with poor performance.
‘I think a small percentage of staff were moved and moved
and moved, moved on, moved on, moved on where they
should have addressed the problems. So they were moved
on because they weren’t doing very well in their previous
role but then it still carried on? Yes, just being moved on.’
As the words from the HEO above suggest, there is a
tendency at times to just move bad performers into other
roles, thereby making it another manager’s problem without
tackling the underlying problems of the underperformance.
This is also seen to occur in performance appraisals in the
past but was improving with the introduction of a new
appraisal system.
‘What happened was that in previous years managers…it’s
easier for the manager to give people a higher box marking
because it shuts them up really and therefore when this new
system came in a few years ago people who were getting
box ones and twos suddenly were down and the majority
had three.’ EO
It is important to note that the issue of leadership
development is not simply a problem with management
practice but is also an issue of how willing staff are to
engage with development opportunities. In some areas,
managers suggested there was an apathetic reaction,
or even resistance, from staff towards taking on more
responsibility and developing leadership skills.
‘Yet as a manager, trying to get my staff to take on
development opportunities is like pulling teeth, they just
don’t want to do it, they just want to come in, do the job
and go home. So I actually find [GovDep] quite frustrating
with all the…I think they do too many staff surveys and
we…not being funny but I think we mollycoddle the staff a
little bit.’ HEO
‘When you work in an organisation and you ask [almost one
hundred] people “does anybody want to team lead” and
none of them says “yes”, that says a lot, doesn’t it?’ HEO
A further challenge for GovDep is encouraging the take-up
of involvement and improvement initiatives. The majority of
managers feel that there are many opportunities for staff to
feed ideas to managers and share ideas among teams, most
commonly through team meetings. However, the take-up
from staff, particularly at the lower levels, is not very strong.
Some managers feel that the type of work many operational
staff are undertaking means that they do not have time
away from their usual routines to take part in improvement.
‘I think to a certain degree people are just busy churning out
the work and there isn’t always the time to [come up with
ideas]. I think you try to do that and certainly in our team
we try to share ideas and have a regular team meeting with
our manager, usually once every fortnight, where we all get
together and we put any items we want on the agenda and
often we have quite long discussions because we all have
different ideas and we try to come to a consensus.’ EO
‘I would say my people have got opportunities; like it doesn’t
stop, it’s continuous.’ HEO
‘If you are asking me – do people naturally come up with
suggestions and ideas to improve things – it’s a simple “no”.
Team leaders do but the people on the teams don’t.’ HEO
One HEO talked about helping his or her staff with filling out
a suggestion form with ideas for improvement. However,
there was some cynicism as to the extent to which these
improvement mechanisms really fed into the management
decision-making chain.
‘[The suggestion form] was a practical thing that she could
do – [I said] “look, we can do it now, come on let’s get on
with it and get it done” – and so that was great because it
made her feel involved and things. She probably hasn’t got
a hope in hell of changing it really but you never know, but
she’s feeling that she’s contributing.’ HEO
A final opportunity for improvement is around cross-
functional working. Several senior managers feel that
there is scope for more learning across business units, both
within the agency and more widely across the government
department. For example, one manager had the ideas that
groups could meet every quarter based on geographical area
to discuss changes and ideas for improvement.
Through our data we were able to explore whether there
are any differences between the engagement levels of
various employee groups. First, we considered demographic
We found some interesting variations. For instance, we
discovered that women are significantly more engaged
overall than men: while 74% of women report being
moderately engaged and 9% strongly engaged, 68%
of men are moderately engaged and 7% strongly
engaged. This reflects the findings of our previous report
(Truss et al 2006).
In terms of caring responsibilities, it was interesting to note
that employees with dependent children report significantly
higher levels of engagement than those without. Eighty per
cent of people with children report being moderately or
strongly engaged, compared with 77% of others.
We also explore the link between age and engagement.
Younger people below the age of 25 are significantly
less engaged in terms of both extent and frequency of
engagement. This corroborates the findings of our earlier
research (Truss et al 2006).
Next, we explored associations between working patterns
and engagement. Full-time employees are significantly more
engaged with their work than part-timers in terms of both
extent of engagement and frequency. Those on permanent
contracts are similarly significantly more engaged (78%)
than temporary workers (74%). The quote below illustrates
the destabilising impact that temporary contracts and
continuous change can have on employees:
‘[The frequent change] feeds people’s cynicism about when
the organisation has changed like – we’ve done this before,
we’ve had this, we’ve had that, we’ve had the other – and I
think it would help if it [the change programme] was sort of
longer term.’ Manager, public sector
Managers are significantly more engaged than non-
managers and, in general, we found that those in
professional or managerial roles are the most engaged.
While 88% of managers report being moderately or strongly
engaged, this is true for 71% of others. The quote below
illustrates the way that job content may impact on people’s
attitudes towards their work:
‘Yeah, too routine, they’ve been doing it for years. I would
be very surprised if you found they were satisfied, I’d say
they were not satisfied. The only thing that keeps them is
probably the money. That’s not being cynical but the jobs are
quite well paid and that’s why a lot of them are still here.’
Manager, public sector, speaking of their direct reports
‘Working here? It’s very varied. I like that with the
department and it’s busy, you know, I mean I’m never going
to be bored, ever, which is great, I like that aspect of it.’
Manager, public sector, speaking of their own job
Employees on flexible contracts emerge as being more
engaged than others in terms of both extent and
frequency of engagement. Again, these findings broadly
reflect those from our previous report (Truss et al 2006).
However, tensions can arise within flexible roles as people
sometimes struggle to manage a heavy workload within
restricted hours:
‘I filled out a job satisfaction survey this morning and I think
I would have scored – oh my god, why are you working at
all?…ask me when everybody is back at work and I’m not
covering for people. There are a few weeks when I think –
yup, I can cope with this, and there are other weeks when I
think – oh my god, I’m glad I’m only job-share – but I think
that might be part of my problem...I try not to take work
home, I did it this week.’ Manager, public sector
Generally, however, we found that senior managers
appreciate the importance of work–life balance and flexibility
and try to set a personal example for their staff:
‘I think over the years I’ve toned the number of hours down.
I think it’s important for people like myself to set an example
there, and as I say, I try to influence others and I feel that if
they’re going…or they’re travelling, they’re coming to work
and they’re travelling at night, and I say, “oh no, you’re not
doing that.”’ Senior manager, construction
Looking broadly at our data on individual differences
and engagement, it seems that there is a link between
job type and engagement. Younger workers typically
have less interesting and involving work to do than their
older counterparts, which may explain their lower levels
of engagement overall. Similarly, managers may be
more involved in decision-making processes within their
organisations and experience greater autonomy than non-
Engaging different employees
managers, which may explain why their engagement levels
are significantly higher. It is difficult to explain why women
are more engaged in their work than men. Further research
is needed to explore these issues in more depth. In the next
section, we consider which managerial strategies have the
most impact on levels of engagement.
Women are more engaged than men.
Younger workers are less engaged than older workers.
Those on exible contracts are more engaged.
Managers are more engaged than non-managers.
Previous research has identified a range of workplace
strategies that impact upon levels of engagement. We ran
statistical tests to find out whether we could see a similar
pattern across our organisations and analysed the associations
between meaningfulness, perceptions of managers, employee
involvement, HR practices and engagement.
The extent to which employees find meaning in their work
has a substantial impact on how they feel about their
working life in general. Employees who believe that their
work is important and that they can make a difference have
much more positive perceptions about their work and their
work environment. Previous studies have demonstrated
the positive impact of meaningfulness on employee
engagement (Cohen 2008, Kahn 1990, May et al 2004).
The data in our study largely confirm these findings by
demonstrating that having a meaningful job is the most
important factor influencing levels of engagement. This is
true for all types of worker in all kinds of jobs.
Our study demonstrates that about two-thirds of all
respondents find meaning in their work, compared with 8%
who do not find their job personally meaningful. Employees
who are able to relate their tasks to a broader context and
feel that they can make a difference have higher levels of
motivation and are more likely to be engaged.
‘I am providing an essential service for several hundred
thousand people, in fact probably for half a million
people. So in that context, my job is very meaningful in
terms of my customers, my client. I provide a meaningful
service to them. And I think it carries with it a social and
environmental and corporate responsibility which makes it
meaningful as well.’ Manager, EnvironmentCo
The above quotation shows that where people can see the
impact of their work on other people or society in general
then their jobs are seen as more meaningful.
The nature of the organisation might facilitate this process
and help employees find their jobs meaningful. Traditionally,
public sector employees have been regarded as having
a distinctive work ethos that stands in contrast to the
profit motive of private organisations. Our analysis shows
that individuals working for public sector organisations
find greater meaning in their jobs, compared with their
counterparts in the private sector.
‘Local authorities are not in the game that people are
running off doing all sorts of things on their own. The work
has to have some meaning and some purpose, it can’t be
just somebody “Oh I fancy doing this task this week.”
We’re in the wrong job for that kind of thing.’
Team manager, LocalGov
Figure 4: Meaningfulness (%)
Very low ModerateLow High Very high
Strategies for engagement
Moreover, meaningfulness is largely attached to the type of
work individuals are asked to carry out in an organisation.
Our analysis reveals that managers find it easier to see the
importance of their work compared with non-managers; and
professionals and senior line managers perceive their jobs to
be highly important, whereas process, plant and machine
operators and other low-skilled workers less frequently relate
to their jobs on a personal level.
Besides these contextual factors, managers are essential in
helping individuals find meaning in their work. One way to
facilitate this is through regular communication about the
organisation’s vision and future objectives. Creating a common
framework helps employees to see a bigger picture in their
daily work. Moreover, managers play a crucial role in designing
jobs in such a way that individuals are enabled to experience
positive feelings during their work. Job enrichment is just
one of the effective techniques that enable organisations to
create meaningful jobs, even for more routine tasks. However,
independently from the type of work, it is important to match
people to their jobs according to their qualifications and skill
levels to raise their level of engagement.
Meaningfulness is the most important driver of
engagement for all employee groups.
As a public sector organisation, ScienceCo is an important
supplier of scientific information in the UK. More than 700
employees are employed at ScienceCo, a large proportion of
whom are scientists researching topics such as sustainable
use of natural resources, impact of environmental change
and spatial modelling. ScienceCo is partially funded by the
Government but also receives income through commissioned
research from the private and public sectors. ScienceCo is
currently undergoing a period of considerable change. For
the previous decades, ScienceCo had experienced a very
stable workforce that effectively met its needs. Typically,
employees would join the company as graduates and stay
with ScienceCo for a long time. Turnover rates were very low
and many employees were given opportunities for training
that meant they were able to meet business needs whenever
ScienceCo had to move into a different area of research.
Changes in the economic climate and demands from
major stakeholders prompted the HR department within
ScienceCo to launch new initiatives that encouraged a
different career pattern to move towards a more dynamic
workforce. Instead of hiring employees for a lifetime,
ScienceCo now aims to attract an increasing number of
graduates and postgraduates who want to be part of the
organisation for three to five years, then go away to work
for a different organisation and then maybe come back
when they have developed other skills: ‘The career path that
we are describing for the future is more come to us, learn
some things, gain some skills, go somewhere else, move on
and maybe rejoin us later in your career as a senior leading
scientist.’ HR manager
As part of its changing careers initiative, the HR department
aims to develop a range of new HR practices and policies.
Employee engagement provides the company with a
framework to integrate these policies and evaluate their
effect on ScienceCo employees. The participants in our
study were 798 employees working for ScienceCo. All
employees were invited to complete an online questionnaire
survey. From this sample, 240 questionnaires were returned,
providing a total response rate of 30%. Additionally,
two face-to-face interviews were conducted with senior
managers working for ScienceCo.
The overall results reveal that employees at ScienceCo
demonstrate particularly high levels of engagement.
Seventy-seven per cent of all respondents are strongly
engaged overall and an additional 8% report being very
strongly engaged. The values for the frequency dimensions
are slightly lower, with 65% indicating that they are engaged
once a week and 6% on a daily basis. However, 26% say
they are engaged once a month only.
Employees score very high on affective engagement, with
40% indicating that they are very frequently engaged on this
‘On the scientific side it is very much the case that they live
and breathe it, so it’s not just a job, it’s a major part of life.’
Figure 5: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at ScienceCo (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
‘I think the scientists are absorbed in what they’re doing and
greatly dislike anything that stops them being absorbed in
it.’ Manager
Levels of intellectual engagement are also very convincing.
The majority of participants (66%) feel ‘strongly’ engaged
on this measure and most employees think about ways to
improve their job at least on a weekly basis.
In the following sections we will consider factors that are
associated with engagement. We will point out a major
strength at ScienceCo, meaningfulness of work, but also
talk about important aspects that could be improved to raise
engagement levels with the organisation, HR practices and
attitudes towards managers. Furthermore, we analyse two
challenges at ScienceCo: person–job fit and organisational
advocacy. Challenges are aspects related to engagement,
where employees currently score very highly, but that are
likely to be subject to change in the near future.
A major strength within ScienceCo is the value employees
place on their work. Almost four-fifths of the respondents
indicate that they find their work meaningful. A lot of this
comes down to the nature of the job many employees carry
out at ScienceCo. A large proportion of the workforce is
employed as scientists who do research on environmental
subjects, and many find that the work they do in their jobs is
worthwhile. A vast majority of respondents also indicate that
their job activities are personally meaningful and significant
to them. These results are reflected in the interviews, with
managers pointing out that for some employees work is
their hobby.
‘You know for many of our employees, if they weren’t being
paid to do their work here it would be their hobby. They are
absolutely involved in the study of their respective subjects.
It’s their life.’ Manager
‘We are an organisation that’s involved in environmental
research and anyone who is working for us is passionate
about the life of the planet and the state of the planet. They
are keen to pursue whatever end necessary to advance the
cause.’ Manager
An important area of improvement within ScienceCo is the
sophistication of HR practices and policies. A considerable
number of respondents indicate that they are dissatisfied
with HR practices and policies and the majority group is
moderate on this aspect. When analysing each HR practice
separately, our study finds that employees are highly satisfied
with their training and development opportunities and also
feel that they have a high level of job security. However,
employees rate career management and opportunities for
promotions more negatively and are especially dissatisfied
with the appraisal system. They also feel that the rewards
they receive are not related to their performance at work.
Although our research study overall indicates that HR
practices are not directly associated with engagement,
HR practices influence levels of engagement indirectly via
management behaviour and a supportive work environment.
Improving the above-mentioned practices could therefore
help to further increase engagement levels at ScienceCo.
The relationship between management and employees is a
very important aspect of an individual’s working experience
and it directly impacts upon engagement levels across
the workforce. Assessing employees’ perceptions of their
line and senior management is a good indicator of this
relationship. To get a detailed picture of the dynamics
underlying the relations between managers and employees,
we measured three different scales. The line management
scale encompassed questions concerning communication,
fair and respectful relationships and whether line managers
listened to employees’ ideas and suggestions. Additionally,
two separate sets of questions were asked for perceptions
of the senior management: first, communication and vision,
that is, how employees rate communication from their
senior managers and feel that they are listened to; second,
overall effectiveness, that is, the degree to which employees
feel that their senior managers have an effective and fair
management style.
At ScienceCo, 69% of respondents perceive their line
management in a positive or very positive way. In contrast
only 5% express negative or very negative perceptions of
their line managers, and 26% are unsure about how to rate
their line management. The scores drop significantly when
respondents were asked to rate their senior management
and a considerable portion of the respondents, one-third,
Senior management
communication and vision
Senior management
Line management
judge senior management communication and overall
effectiveness negatively. The vast majority of respondents
are unsure about their senior management and only about
a fifth feel positive about the way senior management
communicate and work. The results indicate that there
is room for improvement regarding senior management
behaviour and visibility, which might also help to further
increase engagement levels at ScienceCo.
A major strength within ScienceCo is the extent to which
employees feel that their skills are a good match with their
jobs. Person–job fit has been identified in previous research
as one of the important factors impacting upon levels of
engagement. At ScienceCo almost 85% of respondents
feel that their job is right for them compared with only 2%
who indicate a low fit between the job they were asked to
carry out and their skills. More than four-fifths say that their
abilities fit well with the demands of their jobs and a similar
number of respondents feel that their personality is a good
match for their job.
This excellent feedback from ScienceCo employees is likely
to change due to the changes in career management
approach described above. The decision to move towards
a more dynamic workforce has major implications for the
organisation, which have to be managed and evaluated
Employees at ScienceCo demonstrate very high levels of
organisational advocacy. Almost 90% of respondents would
recommend ScienceCo as a good place to work to family
and friends. This compares with a small minority who would
not want to recommend ScienceCo to friends and family.
Following from this positive finding it is not surprising that
many employees have been working at ScienceCo for a very
long time and turnover rates are generally very low.
‘It is a low turnover rate. We’ve looked at this fairly recently
and certainly over the past 10 or 15 years the turnover
rate has been in the order of 4% or 5%. This last year, it’s
actually been 2%.’ Manager
‘We certainly have a very large number of over-50-year-old
employees. That follows on from a lot of recruitment in the
mid to late 1970s, and many of those employees are still
with us.’ Manager
As can be seen from these findings, employees at ScienceCo
demonstrate exceptionally high levels of loyalty, which clearly
contribute to the positive engagement levels. However, similar
to the positive findings on person–job fit, changes are likely to
occur with respect to high tenure and low turnover rates with
ScienceCo introducing its dynamic workforce concept.
We would like to thank Jasleen Lonial for her help in
collecting the data upon which this case study is based.
Figure 6: Attitudes towards managers at ScienceCo (%)
Very negative Neither/NorNegative Positive Very positive
Senior management
communication and vision
Senior management
Line management
10040 7010 8020 50 9030 600
There is considerable evidence from prior research that
perceptions of managerial processes impact on engagement
(De Mello e Souza Wildermuth and Pauken 2008).
Evidence suggests that employees’ level of engagement
and other work responses are affected by their perceptions
of management style. For example, opportunities for
upward feedback increase engagement through greater
participation, which, in turn, relates to greater understanding
of wider organisational issues as well as personal
involvement (Robinson et al 2004). The belief that managers
are interested in employee well-being is also relevant since
perceived reciprocation of effort is an important motivator of
engagement and related behaviours. Effective leadership also
encompasses individual-level feedback, which can increase
both engagement and performance (Alimo-Metcalfe and
Alban-Metcalfe 2006).
In our study, we asked employees to rate their line and
senior managers. For senior management, we focused on
effectiveness and asked respondents to rate the degree to
which employees feel that their senior managers have an
effective and fair management style. Questions about line
managers focused on communication, fairness and trust.
Line managers have a critical role to play since they are the
interface between employees and senior managers. This is
particularly important in large organisations where there is
typically little contact between the senior management team
and employees. Our data show that 56% of our
respondents rate their line management positively, compared
with 15% who have a more negative view of their line
managers. Our study further reveals that positive perceptions
of line managers were associated significantly with extent
of employee engagement. This result indicates that line
managers may have a significant role to play in raising levels
of engagement.
‘My perception of what’s actually wrong with this
organisation is that we have a lot of very good people who
are not good people managers. The problem this creates is
that people at the bottom, who probably have most of the
ideas, can’t communicate those upwards because the people
in the middle over-filter or don’t bother at all.’
Accountant, PlasticCo
Relating to the quotation above, we identified several
aspects of the line manager’s role that can enhance
employee engagement. Starting with recruitment and
selection, line managers need to ensure that the right people
are placed in jobs that are appropriate for their skills and
abilities. Line managers need to communicate goals and
objectives clearly, so that employees can focus their effort
and engagement on specific tasks. These objectives can
encompass helping employees to see how their role fits with,
and contributes to, the bigger picture of the organisational
strategy. Finally, there needs to be a clear cycle of reciprocity
where effort, engagement and reward are mutually positive
and reinforcing. This cycle should include opportunities for
development and promotion so employees can see their
future trajectory within their organisation.
Figure 7: Management perceptions (%)
Very negative Neither/NorNegative Positive Very positive
Senior management
Line management
10040 7010 8020 50 9030 600
Respondents in our study rate senior management lower
than their line managers. Only about a third believe that their
senior managers are effective leaders and the majority, 40%,
are unsure about how to evaluate their senior managers.
Questions included items such as ‘senior managers treat
employees with respect’, and ‘senior managers are fair in
their treatment of me’.
In the questionnaire surveys across the eight organisations we
included the open-ended question: ‘What is the one thing
which would improve your working life?’ Many employees
commented about their senior managers. Example comments
are listed below:
more open and effective communications from senior •
improve information-sharing within the organisation, •
especially from senior management to lower levels
within the organisation
better communications all round would be a vast •
improvement on how things are at present, especially
between line workers and senior management.
The evidence from earlier studies reviewed above, as well
as our own research, shows that positive perceptions of line
managers have a positive impact on engagement. Our data
regarding perceptions of senior managers and, specifically,
their effectiveness, reveal a different pattern. We found that
perceptions of senior managers’ effectiveness are negatively
associated with engagement. That is, low ratings of senior
managers’ effectiveness are associated with high levels of
employee engagement. At first glance, this might appear to
be a counterintuitive result. Certainly, it does not fit with our
general pattern of positive relationships between perceptions
of work and engagement. Yet, there are some similar
findings in other studies. For example, some research has
suggested that a moderate level of dissatisfaction could be
a powerful motivator (Frese 2008). It is possible that a small
degree of negative responses to work could have a role in
driving need for change. In this case, having some negative
perceptions of managers alongside a generally much more
positive perspective could encourage employees to work
harder, become more engaged and see a range of benefits of
doing so. These employees might seek managerial positions
themselves, and such ambitions can be positive for the
individuals as well as the wider organisation. However, the
general recommendation is that positive attitudes towards
managers are important to achieve, and more likely to have
considerable and broad benefits than the specific influences
that some negative perceptions might have. We would not
wish to suggest that senior managers should actively seek
out negative views from their employees! In contrast with
the findings on senior management effectiveness, our scale
capturing communication between senior managers and
employees, visibility and senior managers’ vision for their
organisation is positively related to engagement; in fact, this
emerged as the third most significant driver of high levels of
Senior managers have a significant role in creating an optimal
working environment and helping line managers to achieve
this for their employees. Two critical components are the
design of jobs and the organisation of work. As noted above,
people need to be in the right jobs with appropriate targets to
channel their engagement. The corollary is that the jobs must
be designed to ensure that they have appropriate breadth and
depth. Where jobs are limited, such as production line tasks,
then jobs can be enriched through additional responsibilities.
Such job enrichment leads to a range of positive outcomes
such as enhanced performance, reduced turnover and
increased engagement (Parker et al 2006).
Senior management effectiveness is negatively related
to employee engagement.
Senior management vision and communication is a key
driver of engagement.
Positive perceptions of line managers are strongly
linked with engagement.
PlasticCo is a leading plastics manufacturer producing
blow-moulded plastic bottles for the UK food and drink
industry. The company grew in the 1990s from the merger
between several medium-sized manufacturing businesses.
The company operates from eight sites across the UK and
has a turnover in excess of £100 million. It currently has
a workforce of around 650 employees and is part of a
multinational packaging group of companies.
The leadership style at PlasticCo has traditionally been
described as ‘top–down’ with an autocratic approach
to problem-solving. However, recent changes in senior
management have led to a new strategic direction for
the company. A new managing director was appointed
in 2007, bringing a more participative vision. With full
board support, a business case was made for a three-year
transition towards an involvement-orientated culture. At the
heart of this approach are people development, teamwork,
communication and a more open leadership style. The
new management team made clear that the company was
profitable and performing well and that the change was
part of a new strategy of continuous improvement towards
greater performance. PlasticCo joined the Kingston Business
School Employee Engagement Consortium at the start of
this transition to help assess the levels of engagement in the
company and identify potential avenues for improvement.
The majority of PlasticCo employees work within the
bottle-producing factories operating the blow-moulding
machinery. There are head office functions such as
personnel, managerial and administrative roles outside of
the factory, but these are relatively small in number. The
factory work setting presents many challenges for managers
trying to increase employee engagement. Many of the jobs
require a relatively low level of skill and are repetitive, with
tasks including transporting materials around the factory
and operating particular parts of the machinery. Employees
generally have few qualifications. A further challenge is the
shift pattern on which the factory process is based. Around
80% of factory employees work a strict 12-hour shift
pattern, with four days on followed by four days off. Shifts
either run through the day (8am–8pm) or night (8pm–8am).
The production process runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,
including all bank holidays and Christmas Day. Employees
have to adjust their home lives to the system and adapt to
unsociable working hours. A further potential challenge is
the factory working environment, which is noisy and hot.
Considering the challenges in the manufacturing setting and
traditional management approach at the company, it was a
bold move from the senior managers to attempt to change
towards a more participative approach. One of the first steps
the managing director took was to create an ‘Employee
Engagement Steering Group’ involving key managers from
across the organisation. A leadership and development
manager was also appointed with the specific role of
increasing the engagement of the workforce. The incumbent
to this role described the company as being at a crossroads:
‘we either go on as before, or we take some risks, involve
and let go gradually.’ She also stressed that the change is
‘not about driving employees to work harder, but about
providing the conditions under which they will work smarter
and to offer their opinions, ideas and solutions to problems
that they encounter.’
Demonstrating the new participative approach, all PlasticCo
employees were included in the employee engagement
questionnaire conducted for this project. A total of 650
questionnaires were distributed and 484 were returned,
providing a high response rate of 75%. Thirty-four
interviews were also conducted with managers from various
departments and levels. Finally, two focus groups were held
with 11 shop-floor workers across the sites. Employees were
given paid time on their shift to complete the questionnaire,
and help was offered to employees for whom English was
not a first language.
The results of the survey suggest that at the start of the
change process the company had a generally ‘high’ level
of engagement in the workforce, with 60% of employees
in this category. However, only 7% of employees were
‘very’ engaged and 3% had a ‘low’ level of engagement.
This outcome was not a huge surprise for the senior
management team but gave a measure of the work that
was needed to create a highly engaged workforce. Levels
of engagement frequency were slightly higher. Forty-nine
per cent of the respondents indicated that they are engaged
once a week and another 26% are engaged on a daily basis.
In contrast, 7% said they are rarely engaged.
Analysis of the data from PlasticCo uncovered three main
areas that need addressing to improve engagement –
decision-making, people management and organisational
A common problem identified by managers across the
organisation was that problem-solving tended to be
‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’. In practice, this meant there
was little effort to come up with ideas for improvement, but
rather issues were resolved only when problems arose. A
plant manager summarised this:
‘I think it’s probably more based around problems rather
than them sitting around and asking how am I going to
improve my job? It’s very much if there’s an issue – how can
we improve it? So I think it’s more reactive problem-solving.’
Plant manager
This problem linked into how decisions were made more
generally in the factories. Control and responsibility tended
to be concentrated with a few managers who made changes
on an ad hoc basis. There was very little encouragement
from managers for shift workers to become involved in
decision-making. With little chance of influencing decisions,
workers tended to ignore issues unless they were told
directly by managers about them. This problem was picked
up by one senior manager who reflected on the level of
involvement in the factories:
‘Very little at the moment, very little I would think. As far
as people actively talking about [ways to improve their job]
instead of talking about the weather or the traffic or the
newspaper or TV, do they then say “how can I do my job
better?” I doubt it.’ Senior manager
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for the future at PlasticCo
was the survey finding that employees really care about their
work and want to do a good job. However, because in the
past they were given little opportunity to contribute to the
improvement of work processes, their interest had gradually
‘I do realise working in places that you are just a number...
if they didn’t need you, you wouldn’t be here. I do feel as
well, when I’m in my job I give it 110% but I used to give it
130%.’ Shift manager
To respond to these considerable barriers to engagement,
the recently established employee engagement steering
group introduced a number of measures to increase
employee involvement and a more participative decision-
making process. First, an initiative was set up that would
allow all employees to feed back their views and ideas
directly to the managing director. In break periods, the
managing director invited the employees from each team
and shift to meet with him and ‘challenge’ him. This was
a strong signal of change to the workforce and produced
some early enthusiasm from employees. A second initiative
also showing new commitment to listening to employee
Figure 8: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at PlasticCo (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
views was being involved in the Kingston Business School
Employee Engagement Consortium and survey. After
receiving the results, the leadership and development
manager visited all factory sites to report back the results
direct to staff. A third initiative in the area of decision-
making was to set up cross-functional problem-solving
groups that would meet periodically to discuss ideas for
The management style at PlasticCo was traditionally left to
the proclivities of individual managers. In most factories, the
leadership style was described as performance-focused and,
in some, the culture was seen as ‘hard-nosed’, to quote one
manager. In essence, little attention had been paid to people
management in the past. Before the strategic redirection,
there were few HR practices in place. Training was limited
and there was little emphasis on teamwork.
When comparing the employee engagement levels against
the performance of the factories, there is generally a positive
correlation between engagement and performance. It is
interesting to note that factories tend to perform well or
badly across all employee attitudes. The most surprising
result comes from one factory that is performing very well
by many measures, including productivity, efficiency and
unplanned downtime. However, workers in the factory are
amongst the least engaged from the employee sample.
This clearly contradicts the idea that engagement and
high performance are always related. An important piece
of information that may help to explain this is that the
factory was recently reconfigured with new machinery that
increased automation of the production process. While
management saw this as an excellent investment, shift
workers were less satisfied with the change because they
saw this as another snub of them and their interests. They
felt that all management attention was put into improving
the production process with no investment in the people.
It only reduced the opportunities to contribute to the
improvement of the production process. The plant manager
‘All the sites were very much driven on running better,
running lean, running light, we’re all very focused on that
and I think maybe sometimes we forget the people side of
things.’ Plant manager
To attempt to overcome the problems of people
management, senior managers at PlasticCo introduced some
new initiatives for managers to think about their style and
start to develop new ways of working. Management groups
were set up to identify areas of skills shortage and staff
development needs. Formal HR practices, such as appraisals
and training, were discussed as important avenues for the
Following the results from the engagement survey,
PlasticCo made a conscious effort to improve relationships
between employees and managers within the company. A
performance review process was introduced to encourage
employees to talk to their line managers about their day-
to-day targets, personal objectives and development plans
as well as their career aspirations. A new task set for line
managers was to engage with their team members to find
out each individual’s motivator and to ensure that they
stayed committed to PlasticCo.
Many of the line managers that were interviewed for the
research said how they thrive on the challenge of their work:
‘I enjoy the role. I think there’s a challenge of something
different every day. There are things that you get frustrated
with but I enjoy it. I’m still motivated for it, I’m determined
for the site to get better so for me personally I find it quite a
challenging role and an enjoyable role.’ Plant manager
An important consideration for shaping people management
in PlasticCo is to be realistic about the scope for new ways of
working. The nature of manufacturing work often leads to
highly automated, repetitive tasks and a clear performance
focus on efficiency and productivity. For example, some of
the lowest-skilled job roles are seen as too restrictive to be
able to foster job satisfaction and engagement by managers.
Conversely, we might argue that because there is a highly
mechanised work environment, it is more important for
managers to make a concerted effort to consider their
team’s needs because these do not flow naturally from work
processes. A key challenge for the senior management team
is to explore how people management and development can
become a key focus for first-line managers at PlasticCo.
A final area that needs careful attention at PlasticCo is
the findings of very low levels of employee advocacy for
the organisation. Most employees said they would not
recommend the company as an employer to their friends and
family. Improving decision-making and people management
style will be two clear avenues for improving advocacy.
Another suggestion is to put more effort into celebrating
what the organisation already does well. One such area
mentioned during interviews was opportunities for career
development and promotion within the business. There was
recognition that, if employees wanted to stand out and
work hard, their efforts would be recognised and there were
opportunities for promotion:
‘I started 15 years ago driving a forklift. So I can see that it’s
a very encouraging business for people, developing people
and I’m a prime example. I’ve obviously got through various
roles within our business to get to a senior management
position.’ Senior manager
There have been some recent changes at PlasticCo with
the aim of improving communication and advocacy. An
experienced learning and development professional has been
hired and promoted to director within 12 months. Moreover,
a new HR strategy has been implemented focusing on the
key aspects of attraction, development, retention, and
reward and recognition.
One group of employees had taken responsibility for a two-
day recruitment event that they ran without the involvement
of HR or senior managers and that had been a huge
success. This gave shift workers the chance to talk about
what they liked about their jobs and promote this to the
public. A company magazine had also been introduced to
communicate news and celebrate success in the organisation
– feeding into a more positive work climate.
Much emphasis has been put on leadership development.
A programme has been initiated to identify and develop
high-performing leaders across the business. All these
changes contributed to the evolution of a new culture within
PlasticCo and first results from the company’s management
survey indicate an increase in levels of engagement across
PlasticCo’s workforce.
In terms of the key levers that managers can activate to
raise levels of engagement, our research indicates the
importance of providing meaningful work, as well as
leadership. The third key driver that emerges in our study
is effective employee voice, in other words, opportunities
for employees to input into decisions affecting their work
and their organisations, and to be properly consulted and
communicated with over workplace issues that affect
them. Our data suggest that employee involvement and
management communication have a positive association
with both the extent and frequency of engagement.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in
various forms of employee voice, and it is often argued that
employee involvement and communication are linked with
benefits such as lower absenteeism, fewer exits and higher
levels of commitment, efficiency and performance. Research
suggests that so-called high-involvement work practices can
develop the positive beliefs and attitudes associated with
employee engagement and that these practices can generate
the kinds of discretionary behaviours that lead to enhanced
performance (Konrad 2006). Work by the Institute of
Employment Studies also points to a ‘sense of feeling valued
and involved’ as a major driver of engagement (Robinson
et al 2004). Similarly, while Purcell et al (2003) found a
number of factors to be strongly associated with high levels
of employee engagement, the one thing all of these factors
had in common was that they were connected with an
employee’s involvement in a practice related to their work.
Fundamental to the concept of employee engagement is
the idea that all employees can make a contribution to the
successful functioning and continuous improvement of
organisational processes. Clearly, employee involvement
mechanisms are central to this endeavour. Our study
considered the extent to which employees participate in
decisions that directly affect their job and attend meetings
where they can make suggestions related to their work. As
our data reveal, about two-fifths feel that they are highly or
very highly involved in decisions that affect their job; however,
the majority of respondents only feel moderately involved. A
considerable number, one-fifth, indicate that they do not get
involved in work-related matters on a regular basis.
We can further illustrate these data by three particular
case studies – PlasticCo, ConstructionCo and NorthTrust
– all of which have made efforts to improve the extent
of communication and involvement but face different
challenges in ensuring that these efforts are reflected in
heightened levels of engagement.
At PlasticCo shift workers have historically had little
encouragement from managers to become involved in
decision-making, and problem-solving has tended to be
reactive rather than proactive. However, a management
team traditionally perceived as having an autocratic and
hard-nosed leadership style is now committed to developing
a more participative organisational culture. The results
suggest there are a significant number of employees who
feel moderately involved, but there are also a good number
who are unsure, or feel that they are not particularly involved
Figure 9: Involvement (%)
Very low ModerateLow High Very high
in managerial processes. The factory work setting, shift
patterns and lack of training opportunities present severe
challenges. Given the initiatives that are being put in place, it
is likely that engagement levels will rise over coming months.
ConstructionCo is a relatively young company with a strong
entrepreneurial culture, and this context feeds into positive
employee experiences, creating a dynamic and intellectually
challenging work climate. There are several ways in which
ConstructionCo is attempting to involve employees.
These include: annual communication, ‘Good to Great’
workshops, a regularly updated intranet, staff surveys, team
meetings and suggestion schemes. Some employees are
very positive about these, but others see the situation as
letting ‘a thousand flowers bloom’ with little clarity over
which initiatives are most important or useful. Linked to
this, an area that is acknowledged as needing attention is
the extent of collaborative idea-sharing. The company is
forward-looking, but sometimes this means that teams and
departments do not share knowledge and ideas about how
things are working and how they might be improved. As one
manager noted:
‘There’s a real apathy for collaboration, for sharing, for
knowledge transfer. It’s a shame because that’s what the
business is about.’ Senior manager, ConstructionCo
So there are various involvement initiatives in the
organisation for staff to interact with managers but, in
some respects, these are not strategically coherent or widely
At NorthTrust, the HR department has developed a wide
range of practices and policies designed to widen the
involvement of employees, including a ‘lean programme’
set up to make improvements in outpatients, non-elective
admissions and emergency care. Interviewees report that
the major benefit of this programme is not necessarily
the economic or process efficiency gains but, instead, the
investment in people by giving them the opportunity to
think about their work more carefully and produce ideas for
‘Lean has given people a lot. There are a lot of positives that
have come out of Lean. I think people who have gone working
on Lean projects have loved it, and they’ve come back really
enthused.’ Clinical business manager, NorthTrust
However, there were issues raised about communication
at NorthTrust. A number of matrons said that they feel
senior managers sometimes send out a negative message,
particularly around infection control and targets, while
others think key operational issues are not effectively
‘My biggest beef with [NorthTrust] is the lack of downward
flow of information. I hear from a lot of other managers
around the Trust…[saying] we get a team briefing and we
get [NorthTrust] News, but the actual nitty-gritty of what
is going on doesn’t always filter down.’ Middle manager,
In summary, involvement initiatives have been met with a
mixed response by employees. Across the organisation, there
is concern with the kind of messages that senior managers
are sending to staff as these are sometimes perceived
as being negative. The trust is already in the process of
creating a new post of Director of Communications. Their
main role will be to redesign communication channels,
encompassing top–down communications, news, electronic
communication, idea-sharing, continuous improvement
and emergency planning. This is a very positive initiative
in response to employee feedback that is likely to yield
significant benefits in terms of raising levels of engagement.
It is also notable that at both of the unionised organisations
(PlasticCo and NorthTrust), employees generally feel that
the union is successful in representing employee interests
and this is also associated with higher levels of engagement.
Clearly, the goal of improving and increasing employee
engagement is not without its challenges, given wider macro-
environmental pressures facing many organisations. Success
may require organisations to avoid adopting a ‘piecemeal’,
ad hoc approach and instead focus on the development
of a more strategic and holistic approach, which aims not
only to establish clear employee involvement mechanisms,
but also to build a culture that promotes active listening,
involvement, consultation and participation. Moreover, our
research reaffirms the contention well established in the
literature that genuine employee engagement depends upon
long-established principles, namely that employees feel the
organisational climate is based upon fairness and justice, that
managers treat employees with respect and that effective
voice mechanisms exist for the expression of both individual
and collective concerns.
Looking at our sample overall, statistical tests revealed
that the two most important drivers of engagement
are meaningfulness of work and employee voice.
Meaningfulness is measured by a set of items including,
for instance, ‘the work I do on this job is worthwhile’ and
‘the work I do on this job is very important to me.’ Voice is
similarly measured by a series of items including, ‘I develop
and make recommendations concerning issues that affect
my workgroup’, and ‘I get involved in issues that affect
the quality of work life here in my group’. Statistical tests
showed that these two factors are the major drivers for all
types of employees, for example in terms of age, gender and
job role.
Plotting meaningfulness versus voice provides an insight into
the proportion of employees who have positive perceptions
of these two important factors. We found that only one-
third of our sample, 34%, fall into the category of the ‘vocal-
involved’, those who find their work meaningful and feel
they can express their views openly. The vocal-involved are
those who are in the setting most conducive to high levels
of engagement. It is positive, however, to note the very small
numbers falling into the other categories, with the exception
of the 51% of ‘fence-sitters’, who clearly have the potential
to be converted into the vocal-involved or lapse into the
other categories.
There is good evidence in previous research that HR policies
and practices play a critical role in shaping the relationship
between employers and employees (Gould-Williams 2007).
Our analysis reveals that only about a quarter of employees
are satisfied with the HR practices in their organisation. The
majority of all respondents, 38%, are neither satisfied nor
dissatisfied and a considerable number, 35%, indicate their
dissatisfaction with HR practices.
Respondents indicate several areas for improvement, such
as performance appraisal systems, training and development
opportunities and career management systems.
‘We get PDP [professional development plan] once a year
and that’s meant to be a face-to-face but this year I got sent
an email – this is your PDP.’ Manager, EnvironmentCo
Figure 10: Meaningfulness vs voice (%)
Employee voice is a strong driver of engagement.
Just 34% of employees are the vocal-involved,
who perceive their work as meaningful and have
opportunities to voice their views, yet this category of
workers is the most engaged.
‘I haven’t had any formal sort of training as such, I’ve not
had any management training, I haven’t had any training at
all, whatsoever, [...] so I’m just assuming that what I’m doing
is right and hopefully it is.’ Engineering manager, PlasticCo
Previous studies have demonstrated that individuals’
perceptions of HR practices positively impact upon employee
outcomes, such as organisational commitment and job
satisfaction (Conway and Monks 2009, Kinnie et al 2005).
We therefore aimed to assess whether HR practices are also a
significant predictor of employee engagement by analysing the
relationship between both variables through statistical tests.
In contrast to what we expected, we do not find a
direct association between HR policies and practices and
employee engagement. Rather, our analysis reveals that
the relationship between HR practices and engagement
is indirect. HR practices impact on two key factors: the
behaviour of line managers and person–job fit, or the match
between individuals and their jobs. It is these two factors
that have the most important impact on engagement and
not HR practices in and of themselves.
Figure 11: Satisfaction with HR policies and practices (%)
Very dissatisfied ModerateDissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfied
Most employees have negative views about their
organisation’s HR policies and practices.
HR practices do not impact directly on engagement;
the relationship is mediated by person–job fit and line
management style.
EnvironmentCo is a leading recycling and waste
management company in the UK and part of a global
environmental services company that consists of four
divisions, encompassing water, energy, waste management
and transport. The company employs almost 12,500 people
and 2008 revenues were above £1.2 billion. In the UK,
EnvironmentCo provides integrated waste management
and environmental services to local authorities and industry,
including refuse collection, recycling, hazardous and non-
hazardous waste treatment, disposal, energy recovery, street
cleansing and landscaping and landfill contracts.
EnvironmentCo places a strong emphasis on operating
in a responsible and sustainable manner. The company
is committed to the preservation and protection of the
environment through the provision of professional waste
and recycling management services to communities
and businesses. The access to top-quality research and
international innovation and expertise allows EnvironmentCo
to promote innovative recycling and recovery solutions
to its clients and champion innovative waste treatment
EnvironmentCo has set itself the objective of becoming an
employer of choice within the UK. To achieve this objective,
EnvironmentCo has been reappraising a range of practices
and policies within the company. EnvironmentCo also made
a substantial effort to change its culture towards a more
flexible and open working style. Engaging employees was
seen as a major step towards becoming an employer of
choice. EnvironmentCo decided to join the Kingston Business
School Employee Engagement Consortium to find out more
about the workforce’s levels of engagement and get detailed
information about which aspects to improve in order to raise
engagement levels within the company.
The participants in the engagement survey were 2,217
employees working for EnvironmentCo. The research
consisted of two main stages. First, 757 employees
with email access were invited to complete an online
questionnaire survey. A further 1,460 employees without
Internet access were given a paper version of the
questionnaire. From this sample, 1,029 questionnaires were
returned, providing a total response rate of 46%. Second,
20 face-to-face interviews were conducted with a range of
managerial staff.
The overall result of the study is very positive. Seventy-five
per cent of employees at EnvironmentCo are strongly or
very strongly engaged. About 24% are moderately engaged
and only 1% of respondents indicate that they are weakly
engaged. Levels of engagement frequency are even higher,
with 78% indicating that they are engaged on a regular
basis, 19% even on a daily basis.
Employees at EnvironmentCo especially show very high levels
of affective engagement, which reflects that respondents
generally care about doing a good job.
Figure 12: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at EnvironmentCo (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
‘Everybody is working hard because they care about the
company, you know they all want to make sure that they
save the company money and it stays a successful company.’
‘I’d say 90% of our workforce is conscientious; they want to
drive the business forward.’ Senior manager
In the following sections we will explain which aspects
contribute to the high levels of engagement at
EnvironmentCo – clarity of objectives, employee voice,
corporate social responsibility – and also give some advice
as to which areas could be improved to further raise levels
of engagement among EnvironmentCo employees – HR
practices and systems and processes within EnvironmentCo.
Clarity of objectives has been shown in previous research to
be an important factor impacting upon levels of engagement.
At EnvironmentCo, the vast majority of employees feel that
they know what is expected of them and are clear about the
tasks they had to perform to achieve their goals.
‘Our people are competent, able to work within teams,
understanding [...] the company’s strategic objectives.’
Senior manager
‘It’s really key that employees understand what the business
objectives are, what the company objectives are and the
reasons why. I think if they understand that and someone
sits and explains that to them then they will absolutely work
for us without a shadow of a doubt.’ Senior manager
An impressive number of interviewees talk about
EnvironmentCo’s strategic objectives in the next few years,
which reflects the fact that strategic goals and objectives
had been communicated very well at management level.
Occasionally, employees indicate that they would prefer to
receive more information about EnvironmentCo’s future
‘Improved information-sharing within the organisation
[would make my working life easier], especially from senior
management to lower levels within the organisation. Too much
information isn’t accessible, eg Strategy 2012.’ Employee
However, overall clarity of objectives is a major strength at
EnvironmentCo, which clearly contributes to the high levels
of engagement.
A second strong point at EnvironmentCo is the extent to
which employees are given opportunities to get involved in
discussions about work-related matters and communicate
their opinion about aspects of their job. Almost two-thirds
of the respondents in our study feel highly or even very
highly involved in work-related matters. The management
style at EnvironmentCo is described as open, democratic and
honest, where employees can talk to their managers about
issues that affected their work.
‘The management style is one of creating a communicative
culture, ie communication downstream and upstream.’
‘Most managers sit there with their door open and it’s a
fairly open management style and most of them have come
up through the ranks as well, so most of them have come
from either a driving or from an admin type role anyway so
they know what everybody is doing.’ Manager
‘I think it’s quite an open management style. I think it’s quite
direct but I would say reasonably diplomatic.’ Manager
To further encourage employees to get involved with their
job, EnvironmentCo has implemented a suggestion scheme to
foster ideas across the organisation. Every quarter employees
are encouraged to put down their ideas on a specific topic,
such as health and safety, customer service or efficiency.
At the end of each quarter, three ideas get picked out and
the winners are given vouchers as rewards for their ideas.
Managers in our study complimented employees for the
number of valuable ideas they put into the suggestion scheme.
‘We’re really getting a lot of suggestions. We had a recent
conference and we had over 100 suggestions in one day
from the assembled group, which is fantastic.’
Senior manager
‘One which was a really simple idea but great was that all
the drivers should have a name badge so that when they are
talking to their customer the customer sees their name, gets
familiar with the driver, they are the point of contact at the
end of the day.’ Senior manager
A third important strength in EnvironmentCo is its
commitment to being a socially responsible member of
society. EnvironmentCo’s aim to protect the environment
by investing in innovative and state-of-the-art techniques is
highly appreciated by many employees. Fifty-one per cent
of respondents believe that EnvironmentCo is a socially
responsible member of society, compared with only 9% who
disagree with this statement.
‘I would say the values and what we aspire to do are
laudable in the environmental space. I would say definitely
yes.’ Manager
‘I think everything that I hear from the highest level is that
that is our intention and that we will make every effort to
reduce our impact on the environment and it seems to be a
consistent message.’ Manager
Many respondents indicate that working for a socially
responsible company is important to them and some
respondents indicate that they cannot imagine themselves
working for a company that they would consider irresponsible.
‘We are in a world that is getting smaller, diminishing resources,
increasing population. At most we all have a social conscience
and how we are affecting the environment, other people and
so forth. So it is the most important thing. And if you have got
children you are going to worry about that.’ Director
‘Yes, corporate social responsibility is important for
me because I consider myself to be fairly socially and
environmentally responsible anyway.’ Manager
‘I would be very uncomfortable working for a company that
I thought was unethical or didn’t think was responsible.’
One area for improvement at EnvironmentCo is the
development of more sophisticated HR policies and practices.
A considerable number of respondents (19%) in our study
are dissatisfied with HR.
At EnvironmentCo, employees specifically express their
dissatisfaction with training and development opportunities,
and the career and performance appraisal systems.
‘The training for HR, for managers, is horrendous. I’ve never
had any training on it. You just learn the processes and the
policies, you just go on the intranet and have a look and we
sort of make it up as you go along.’ Manager
‘Everybody talks about training and likes to be trained and
we’ve got a very good training department. [...] But I think
it’s underutilised and the reason for that is that the training
culture from the top is weak.’ Manager
‘The career management is really about who knows who at
the moment. There’s no real formal structure to the career
management.’ Senior manager
On the positive side, several respondents indicate that HR
practices have been identified as a weakness within the
company by the HR department already and appreciate that
the HR department is currently working on new policies and
processes across several HR areas.
‘We have a performance development plan process and
that’s management levels. We’re in the middle of changing
the process at the moment because we’re investing in
an intranet-based system because we’ve found with the
manual-based in such a big organisation, it’s really hard for
us to track the output.’ Manager
‘The performance appraisal system is embryonic. It had an
initiative a few years ago and went badly wrong, but the
current HR director is relaunching it.’ Senior manager
Another challenge for EnvironmentCo is the systems and
processes in place across the company. Several interviewees
commented that the systems and processes within
EnvironmentCo are not developed to a level appropriate to a
business of EnvironmentCo’s size. This is a major frustration,
especially for managers, which impacts upon levels of
‘Reporting mechanisms have been very poor, very, very poor
because we work on different systems.’ Manager
‘Because we’ve got all sorts of systems out there, the
company runs on about 25 different systems, each different
division has got a different system.’ Manager
‘You’ve just got a system that’s very laborious, the system
that we’ve inherited to use is not as efficient as other
systems might be so we’ve had to adapt that but resource is
really tight.’ Senior manager
Interviewees especially feel that the intranet needs much
more development, as communication and collaboration
opportunities are missed. Collaboration and talking to peers
about ways to improve a job is part of our conceptualisation
of social engagement and interviewees indicated that one
means of increasing levels of social engagement would be
providing a more sophisticated intranet.
‘The current intranet is terrible, just a place where people
put documents and we want to turn it around, we want to
make it a tool for online collaboration, so that people can
have electronic forums...blogs, we want the CEO to do a
blog every week.’ Director
‘One of the big communication opportunities we’re missing
is the intranet. Our intranet is just poor, it’s static.’ Manager
Employee engagement has been associated with a range of
positive outcomes at the individual and organisational levels,
for example, engaged employees are more likely to perform
better and are less likely to seek a new job elsewhere. In this
section, we consider how all the factors in our model impact
on a range of outcomes at both levels, including individual
performance, intention to leave and individual well-being.
We consider three important outcomes of engagement:
performance, innovative work behaviour – or the extent to
which people innovate in their jobs – and intent to quit.
The process of engagement that we have seen so far involves
a positive cycle of perceptions of work, satisfaction with
work, involvement in and engagement with work. These
behaviours and the psychological processes that underpin
them lead to enhanced performance. Engaged employees
perform better than their less engaged counterparts because
they are more involved with their work, they think more
about their work, which helps them to develop better
solutions, and they are socially connected with their work.
There is also considerable empirical evidence for a positive
association between engagement and performance, and our
study fits well with prior evidence.
Although individual performance would ideally be measured
by asking someone else, such as a line manager, about an
individual’s performance, this is not possible in a survey
of this nature, so we asked employees to self-rate their
perceptions of a range of performance measures. These
include job skills (that is, the extent to which employees have
the knowledge and ability to carry out their job); social skills
(for example leadership and interpersonal skills); willingness
to take on extra work; and the rating they received in their
most recent performance appraisal.
We first asked people whether they feel that they have the
right skills to carry out their work effectively. Fifty per cent
feel their job skills are very good and an encouraging 22%
feel they are excellent. For social skills, the scores are just
slightly lower, with 41% feeling they are very good and
22% excellent. On both scales, very few employees rate
themselves as having a poor or fair skill level.
We also asked employees whether they are willing to take
on extra work and go beyond the call of duty. Fifty-nine
per cent indicate that they were willing to take on extra work
on a regular basis. We then asked people to let us know the
rating they received in their last performance appraisal.
Forty-three per cent of all employees received a good
performance appraisal, 36% were rated very good and
another 9% excellent. In contrast, 12% received a poor or
fair rating in their last performance appraisal.
These performance data are positive across the whole
sample; however, we can find some statistically significant
differences across employee groups.
Although these data are not objective measures of
performance, they provide a barometer of employees’
understanding of their own performance in relation to that
of their peers.
Figure 13: Levels of self-rated job skills and social skills (%)
Poor GoodFair Very good Excellent
Job skills
Social skills
10040 7010 8020 50 9030 600
41 20
Outcomes of engagement
For a subset of our organisations, we analysed whether
higher levels of engagement lead to innovative work
behaviour. Across the three organisations included in our
subsample, a quarter of respondents say that they never
engage in innovative work behaviour, such as creating new
ideas for difficult issues or generating original solutions
for problems. The vast majority of our respondents, 38%,
indicate that they develop innovative ideas a few times a year,
whereas only 15% show innovative work behaviour on a
weekly or daily basis.
Although respondents certainly rate their innovative
work behaviour much lower compared with their in-role
performance, we ran statistical tests to determine whether
engaged employees are more likely to engage in innovative
work behaviour than their less engaged counterparts. Our
data show a strong association between engagement and
innovative work behaviour. Engaged employees are more
likely to search out new methods, techniques or instruments,
make important company members enthusiastic for
innovative ideas, and transform innovative ideas into useful
applications. However, more research is needed in the future
to explore these relationships in more depth and analyse
the different behaviours of engaged versus non-engaged
employees when it comes to being innovative and creating
new ideas.
A third important outcome of engagement is the intent to
remain with the organisation. Intent to stay is important
for organisations since it ensures that human capital is
maintained, morale is good and recruitment costs are
reduced. Conversely, people’s intention to leave is a close
proxy for actual leaving behaviour and gives a good
indication of how employees generally feel about their work
and their working environment.
‘I have been in the company for almost 20 years. I never
thought about working for another company. I love working
with EnvironmentCo. EnvironmentCo has been very good
to me. I try to repay the trust they put in me. Whenever I
have been approached by any other company I’m just not
interested. I am happy with EnvironmentCo, I’m delighted
with what I am doing, and I work with fantastic colleagues.
My boss is great with me; my CEO is great so I am absolutely
delighted.’ Senior manager, EnvironmentCo
Similar to the senior manager of EnvironmentCo, many of
our interviewees express a high level of satisfaction and
loyalty to their companies. In our study, more than a third,
36%, say they would like to stay with their respective
organisation for at least five years, compared with 17% who
want to leave their organisation within the next two years.
The majority of employees, 40%, do not indicate how long
they want to continue working for their current employer.
Figure 14: Rating of the last performance appraisal (%)
Poor GoodFair
Very good Excellent
Figure 15: Innovative work behaviour (%)
Never Once a monthA few times a year
Once a week Daily
The data from our study show that engaged employees
are significantly more likely to want to stay with their
organisation compared with those who are less engaged.
These data, combined with our other data on engagement,
suggest that it is not the case that people who are not
engaged and quit would be no loss to the organisation.
Rather, most people have the potential to be engaged, but
the working environment must be right for engagement to
be initiated and sustained.
For those intending to leave their company, the main reasons
given are listed in Table 3.
These data show that there are two main reasons for
wanting a new job. The first is to achieve higher pay in a
similar job elsewhere. The second is to find a more satisfying
job in a different organisation. Pay is, of course, a perennial
issue and one that goes beyond the scope of this report.
However, while pay rises are not typically feasible, other
forms of reward are possible and these alternatives can be
successful in raising engagement. For example, some of the
organisations in our sample use recognition schemes to give
employees public acknowledgement of their achievements.
Another opportunity for increasing engagement and
productivity is the use of suggestion schemes. One of the
organisations in this consortium has recently started an
initiative that involves team discussions of suggestions
whereby the most popular suggestion is acted upon and
changes are made within two months, and then another
suggestion will be selected and put into practice. Another
way that retention can be enhanced is through the design
of work. Line and senior managers have a responsibility
to ensure that jobs are suitable, support is available and
employees are enabled to craft meaningful roles, as
discussed earlier in this report.
Less than one year Three or four yearsOne or two years Five or more years Unsure
Figure 16: Intention to stay (%)
Table 3: Main reasons for wanting to leave organisation
Reason %
Better pay/benefits elsewhere 21
Job satisfaction 17
Opportunities for promotion 16
To find a different job within the organisation 13
To find another similar job in a different organisation 13
To do a different type of work 13
Engaged employees perform better and are more likely
to want to stay with their employer.
Engaged employees are more innovative than others.
NorthTrust is an NHS foundation trust based in the north
of England. It is a large public organisation providing acute
healthcare to a population of over 300,000 people. The
immediate catchment covers some 33 square miles, which is
largely an urban area. It has foundation trust status, which
means it has increased independence from government
regulation and can reinvest any surpluses back into
improving service delivery. Annual income is in the region of
£225 million.
The trust is also a teaching hospital and a tertiary centre
providing specialist services to a wider population of around
1.5 million people. The population served by the trust
includes some of the most socially deprived communities in
the UK, with high rates of heart disease and cancer creating
considerable demand for hospital-based care. The trust is
one of the largest employers in the area with 4,500 staff. It
has been accredited with Investor in People recognition for
all workplace policies and practices.
The hospital has a bed complement of 860 inpatient and
105 day case beds. In 2007, the trust handled over 76,500
episodes of inpatient and day cases, over 280,000 outpatient
attendances and nearly 87,000 emergency visits. The trust’s
services are organised into 15 clinical business units, grouped
by three main divisions: medicine and emergency, surgery
and support services.
The vision of the trust is ‘to provide high-quality, patient-
centred healthcare and proactively enhance the Trust’s local,
national and international reputation’. The central aim of
the HR strategy is for the trust to be an employer of choice
for the area. Recent trends have included an increased
workload of around 9% during 2007–08, perhaps reflecting
an increase in patients choosing to be treated at the hospital
under new NHS arrangements. The organisation has recently
invested £2 million in ward-based nursing and made a
financial surplus of £1.1 million in 2007–08 to be reinvested
in the following financial year. The trust has also recently
begun an ambitious £7.5 million reconfiguration of radiology
facilities. In terms of service performance, the trust has
delivered the 18-week waiting list targets and cancer targets
set by the Department of Health.
NorthTrust joined the Kingston Business School Employee
Engagement Consortium as an opportunity to learn from
other organisations and feed the results into other HR
initiatives, such as the annual staff survey and employee
involvement policy. The HR department in the trust has
developed a wide range of practices and policies to support
the diverse needs of the workforce. These are described by the
HR team as initiatives that ‘value staff’. In addition to policy
documents relating to partnership and involvement, they
include schemes such as ‘Employee of the Month’, ‘Team of
the Year’, long service awards, staff suggestion scheme/zone,
health walks, cycle scheme, pamper days, flexible working,
nursery and childcare vouchers, and gym discounts.
The engagement research was conducted in two stages.
First, a stratified sample of 2,000 employees was invited
to complete an online questionnaire. A further 100
without Internet access were sent a paper version of the
questionnaire. From this sample, 381 online questionnaires
and 39 paper copies were returned, providing a total
response rate of 20%. The second part of the research
was conducting 20 face-to-face interviews with a range of
clinical and managerial staff – including clinical business
managers, general support, matrons and consultants. Further
insights were gained through site visits and secondary
Three occupational groups made up the bulk of survey
respondents – administrative and clerical, registered allied
health professionals and registered nurses. There are a
wide range of administrative jobs in the NHS, including
medical records staff, call handlers, clerks, patient liaison
administrators and receptionists. They serve important roles
in organising appointments and maintaining patient records.
Allied health professionals include people working within
a variety of health treatment areas such as physiotherapy,
dietetics, orthopaedics and radiography. Practitioners within
these roles are registered with a professional body that
regulates professional conduct and development. Registered
nurses are responsible for various roles around patient care.
They may specialise in a specific medical area or serve a more
general role.
The overall results of the survey are positive, with 85%
being ‘highly’ or ‘very highly’ engaged. Thirteen per cent
are moderate and only 1% have a low level of engagement.
Levels of engagement frequency are similarly positive.
Eighty-three per cent of respondents indicate that they are
engaged on a daily or weekly basis, and only about 2%
engage less than once every month. We will consider three
areas that are contributing to high levels of engagement in
NorthTrust – involvement initiatives, satisfied workforce and
clarity of objectives – and three areas that are less successful
in this context – recruitment and retention in some roles,
leadership style and communication.
Certain involvement initiatives the trust initiated or joined are
positively received by employee groups. The main example
given here is the ‘Lean programme’, which was set up to
make improvements in outpatients, non-elective admissions
and emergency care. One matron summed up this initiative:
‘One sign of successful involvement in the trust is the “Lean
programme”. This is an initiative organised by an external
consultant that seeks to remove redundant work processes
and increase the “flow” in organisational systems. Many
respondents reported how this was a rewarding experience.
We have facilitators...and then we invite a selection of
people – clinicians, junior doctors, senior nurses, junior
nurses, porters – a cross-section...they would map out the
current processes step by by the end of that week
we will have a plan of improvement to implement. I think it’s
been beneficial.’ Matron
Other interviewees reported that the major benefit of this
programme is not necessarily the economic or process
efficiency gains but, instead, the investment in people by
giving them the opportunity to think about their work more
carefully and produce ideas for improvement.
Despite the warm reviews by most staff, a few point to the
danger of this kind of initiative. There is the possibility that
changes to work processes can be made too hastily without
proper consideration for the implication of making the
changes. The process-mapping exercise and planning stage
do not always pick up important scenarios that occur in the
day-to-day operation of work:
‘[Changes to work processes] are very frustrating and
sometimes confusing because things can change from
week to week. One week, it’s a good idea, but usually what
happens is someone comes up and says “that’s a great idea”
so we introduce it, we haven’t got time to get it tested and
when it’s introduced, of course, there’s a fundamental flaw
and somebody picks that up and so you have to change it
again or you scrap it.’ Matron
The engagement survey results show that there are pockets
of employees, such as those participating in Lean, who
feel very involved in organisational decision-making and
improvement. However, there are also other areas where
people are less positive. The senior HR team is disappointed
with this finding because they feel they have put a lot of
work into organisational involvement through outputs such
as the staff involvement policy, staff involvement group and
partnership forum. They plan to respond to this finding by
making efforts to ensure involvement initiatives are spread
more widely throughout the trust.
Figure 17: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at NorthTrust (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
A consistently positive finding across NorthTrust is that
employees are satisfied working for the NHS. Employees are
slightly more satisfied with aspects supporting their job, such
as pay and benefits, rather than core work tasks, but both
are positive. Employees are also very positive and satisfied
with NorthTrust as a hospital and place of health care. Many
said they would be happy to let their close family and friends
be treated in the trust’s services.
‘Health service jobs are good – everyone thinks we’re poor
nurses but no, we’re not poor, nurses are paid very well
and managers are paid very well too. We can afford a good
standard of living I think. All in all it’s a satisfying career in
the health service.’ Clinical business manager
Employees also score very highly on the extent to which they
care about their jobs. Even groups that are less engaged in
other aspects are engaged on an emotional level. This ‘public
sector ethos’ is often found in public sector organisations.
‘It’s a satisfying career because the one thing is that you’re
doing something for the public, aren’t you? You’re doing
something that makes a difference and that’s probably why I
like my job.’ Clinical business manager
An important component of employee engagement is clarity
in what individuals and teams are trying to achieve at work.
This is particularly important for the intellectual aspects of
engagement. In NorthTrust employees are confident that
they know what they are trying to achieve and how this
contributes to organisational performance. Sixty-seven
per cent of respondents feel that they know what they have
to do to complete their work tasks and how this contributes
to performance. NHS trusts have strict performance targets
set by central government’s Department of Health. These
relate to issues such as waiting times and infection control.
Meeting targets is one of highest priorities for NHS staff –
from senior executives to consultants to nurses. Discussion of
targets featured heavily during the engagement research:
‘The problem is of course that you can’t go back, and no
one would want to go back [to pre-target days]. To be fair
to the Government they’ll say “well surely you don’t want to
go back to the days when people in accident and emergency
spent, you know, in extreme cases 24 hours waiting to be
seen”, and we clearly don’t want that.’ Matron
‘Targets are a good idea – aspiration, you work towards it
and achieve an end. But some of the targets aren’t realistic.
...If you can’t actually achieve them with the resources
you’ve got all you’re doing is putting pressure on people for
no reason.’ Consultant
Recruitment and retention of staff is an issue in some areas
of the trust. Generally, across the organisation there is a
feeling that employee skills match their roles well. However,
there are a few areas characterised by high employee
turnover and low attendance. More specifically, there are
some administrative roles within the trust that appear to
have a challenging work situation due to low pay, lack of
training, demanding work and little social support. The
recruitment process in the NHS is seen as bureaucratic by
managers wanting to fill roles quickly. Yet this is difficult to
overcome in the health sector due to prudent regulations
and legal checks such as the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB)
and Right to Work:
‘The recruitment process takes a very long time because of
the standard procedures and things like CRB checks, which
add a further bureaucratic burden.’ Middle manager
Linked to the problem of retaining people in some roles,
another challenge in NorthTrust is developing teamwork in
some areas. This is identified as a particular problem for larger
departments, where team relationships are less personal.
‘Some roles don’t get an opportunity for social engagement
because they are working independently away from
colleagues and managers. They are then not given
opportunities to interact at meetings either.’
General manager
It was also an issue in other areas; for example, some
receptionists are required to be fixed to a particular desk
with no other employees in the same work area. This can be
a very isolating experience.
There is a huge amount of change going on in the NHS and
this is impacting NorthTrust in important ways. For example,
there are implications for leadership style within the
organisation due to frequent changes in the management
‘Yeah I mean the management have actually changed a lot
over the last year and we’ve got a new general manager...
and his style will determine a lot of our workload and the
priorities that we’ve got.’ Clinical business manager
The style of management will affect how important priorities
such as meeting targets are approached and controlled.
With the NHS focus on targets and high-profile issues of
ward infection control, some managers pointed out that
poor performance had to be dealt with strongly, as there
were severe health consequences for patients. Disciplinary
action would undoubtedly affect the perception of support
in the work environment, but this was an unavoidable
consequence of the priorities of the hospital.
‘Sometimes people are wrong and, if you’re wrong, you’re
wrong, so you can’t say that’s a blame culture. That’s like,
you know, you didn’t deliver what you should have delivered
so therefore your role isn’t suitable for you, so that’s
acceptable.’ Clinical business manager
The trust has to take action in relation to complaints, serious
untoward incidents and infection control issues.
Style of communication is also perceived to be very
important for senior managers. The allied health
professionals (for example physiotherapists, occupational
therapists, radiographers) are traditionally seen to be very
good at communicating with their staff as part of their
professional culture.
However, more generally across the organisation, there is
concern with the kind of message that senior managers are
sending to staff. For example, if the end-of-year message
to staff from the chief executive is perceived to have an
overriding negativity this does not go down very well with
nursing staff because they feel they have worked very
hard all year. Other senior managers are noted for being
autocratic and distrusting of middle manager capabilities and
this again impacts on the way they communicate to staff.
To overcome these issues, the trust has created a new
post for Director of Communications. Their main role
will be to redesign communication channels in the trust,
encompassing top–down communications, news, electronic
communication, idea-sharing, continuous improvement and
emergency planning.
The recent interest in positive organisational behaviour has
included an emphasis on positive outcomes for individuals
(Bakker and Schaufeli 2008). In the following two sections,
we will therefore consider how engagement might lead to
positive results at an individual level, such as higher well-
being and sustainability.
There is good evidence that high levels of engagement are
negatively related to burnout and positively associated with
well-being (Bakker et al 2008, Schaufeli and Bakker 2004). Our
data confirms thesendings by demonstrating that engaged
employees show higher levels of well-being. This means that
engaged individuals are more likely to enjoy their work activities,
are able to cope with work-related problems and are less
likely to lose sleep over work-related issues. Three-fths of our
respondents indicate that they have high levels of well-being
and a further 7% said that their level of well-being is very high,
compared with only 4% who express low levels of well-being.
These are very positive findings that confirm that engagement
has positive outcomes for individuals themselves. However,
especially in our more recent case studies, managers express
warnings that levels of well-being might decrease with the
mounting pressures due to the current economic climate.
‘I do think we possibly have a bit of an issue with work
pressures and a long hours culture but I think there’s a little
bit of pressure for people to work hard, work smart and
work fast and I think it does sometimes get a bit challenging
for people and I think everybody can understand the reasons
for it.’ Manager, ServiceCo
‘There seem to be people suffering with stress and I think
that maybe we’re pushing people so hard that sometimes
we don’t recognise it.’ Manager, EnvironmentCo
‘There was one bloke when I first joined and he was
staying until like 11:00 at night and he was here at 9:00 in
the morning. So I think there is actually quite a lot within
the rest of the company as well, there’s quite a culture of
working long hours.’ Manager, ConstructionCo
Looking at our dataset as a whole, we compared levels of
individual well-being with performance to find out how
many employees experience both high levels of well-being
and perform highly. It was gratifying to discover that only
a tiny number, 1%, fall into the category of ‘unfit non-
performers’. However, one-third, 32%, can be described as
‘fit performers’, while the majority, 59%, are ‘fence-sitters’.
Highly engaged employees are more likely to feel that their
workload is manageable and that they can cope with their
current workload. Sensing that work is sustainable in the
longer term is important from an individual’s perspective,
as unsustainable work is detrimental to the health and
safety of the workforce. In our study, almost three-fifths of
respondents consider their work highly sustainable; however,
about a third are unsure about whether they could continue
to work at their current pace in the future and almost 10%
clearly indicate that their workload is not sustainable.
Although our study revealed that engagement generally
leads to higher sustainability, our qualitative and quantitative
data also demonstrate that this relationship does not
Figure 18: Levels of well-being (%)
Very low ModerateLow High Very high
hold for very high levels of engagement. Employees at
the extreme ends of engagement show lower levels of
sustainability. Constantly thinking about work, taking
extra work home on a regular basis and not switching off
from work at any time during the day has a serious impact
on individuals and might lead to ill-health and burnout
symptoms, as these individuals are more likely to become
‘workaholics’ with the associated risks.
‘I had a guy who used to be full-on and he had a heart attack,
one of my sales managers, lovely guy, quite young, 31. When
he was in hospital, he starts emailing, “I spent the weekend in
hospital, they’ve done all these tests on me, I’m just on down
for an ECG, but I thought Id just copy an email to you, I hope
you’re alright”...I was virtually the same. When I was in hospital
last year, they didnt have an Internet connection, so I asked my
wife to bring my laptop. She would bring it to the hospital, I
sent her back home so she could upload and send the emails,
collect the new ones and bring it back.’ Manager, ServiceCo
Similar to this quote from a manager in ServiceCo, other
interviewees told us about incidents from their working
experience where people have become too engaged. This has
had serious effects on their health, but also impacted on their
personal life and their ability to concentrate and focus, which
in turn affected their productivity. Managers have a critical
role to play in ensuring that the engagement levels of their
team members are sustainable. Additionally, it is important to
prevent organisational cultures from developing that reward
working long hours and encourage 24/7 availability.
Figure 20: Sustainability (%)
Very low ModerateLow High Very high
Figure 19: Individual performance vs well-being (%)
Fence-sitters (59)
Fit non-performers (6)
Unfit non-performers (1)
Fit performers (32)
Unfit performers (2)
Engaged employees enjoy greater levels of personal
Engaged employees perceive their workload to be
more sustainable than others.
One-third of employees are ‘t-performers’, enjoying
high levels of personal well-being and performing well.
ConstructionCo is an international consultancy and
construction firm. Founded in 1990, the organisation
has experienced rapid growth to a turnover in excess of
£500 million in 2007. The firm has been responsible for
several high-profile construction projects in the UK, Asia
and the Middle East. The company employs close to 2,900
people and operates in 28 countries around the world.
The company offers services that span the entire property
lifecycle, including planning and building, maintenance
and facilities management, waste management and ICT
consultancy. Senior management have set ambitious growth
targets to have a £1 billion turnover by 2012. Around 63%
of current turnover comes from consultancy and 37% from
construction. The workforce is currently 70% male and has a
relatively young age composition.
The company is particularly proud of its relationships with
clients and suppliers; over 70% of contracts come from
returning clients. The company has also established a good
reputation for employee experience. It has been listed in the
Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For’, been named in
the top 50 in Building magazine’s ‘Good Employers Guide’
and holds Investor in People recognition across the UK
ConstructionCo has a simple vision: ‘to be the best at what
we do’. Feeding into the vision are a number of core values,
which include – respecting people, listening to views of
all staff, delivering with trust, honesty and integrity, and
promoting positive collaboration. The company already
has in place a progressive set of HR practices and a team
with responsibility for facilitating employee engagement.
Participation in the Kingston Business School Employee
Engagement Consortium was therefore to feed into
existing initiatives rather than to kick-start a redirection.
Further sources of information include an annual staff
survey, Investors in People feedback and Sunday Times Best
Companies feedback. The employee engagement survey
was distributed to employees working in the UK. An online
questionnaire was distributed to 346 employees and was
returned by 180, providing a response of 52%. Twenty
interviews were also conducted with a range of managerial
The results from the survey are very positive, with 77% of
employees being ‘highly’ engaged and 12% ‘very highly’
engaged. Less than 1% fall into low engagement categories.
Levels of engagement frequency are even higher. Almost
90% of all respondents are engaged on at least a weekly
basis and only 2% are engaged only once a year. The
general results clearly suggest that ConstructionCo is a very
engaging company to work for.
What do these results mean for engagement initiatives
within the organisation? During one research meeting the
employee engagement manager reflected, ‘Maybe this
means I am out of a job! There is nothing for me to do.’
We will consider whether this is the case by looking at three
things the organisation is currently doing well – creating an
entrepreneurial culture, fair and consistent management
Figure 21: Extent and frequency of employee engagement at ConstructionCo (%)
Very weak/
Once a month
Overall engagement extent Overall engagement frequency
A few times a year
Once a week
Very strong/
practices and high levels of organisational advocacy – and
three areas where the organisation is not doing so well –
sharing ideas for improvement, work–life balance and staff
perceptions of senior managers.
ConstructionCo is a relatively young company and is
growing rapidly. The organisation has an entrepreneurial
culture based on a record of successful performance. This
context feeds into positive employee experiences and at
the workplace level this creates a dynamic and intellectually
challenging work climate.
[ConstructionCo] has a very entrepreneurial feel about it so
there is always that intellectual challenge.’ Middle manager
The organisational culture also creates a buzz of excitement
and opportunity for staff. With recent growth, many new
starters have been employed through staff recommendations
from their network of personal contacts. This means that
staff can make a real contribution to the growth of the
organisation and shape the type of workforce they are
growing into. Survey results suggest that employee–job fit
and staff quality are high as a result. The entrepreneurial
culture is based on the drive and ambition of staff and the
willingness to succeed. This is supported by letting people
take responsibility and ownership of their own performance,
development and career. At the same time, it should
be recognised that not all employees will, or should, be
highly driven as this can create an overly individualistic and
competitive culture. Instead, there needs to be a balance of
drive and enterprise on one hand, and stability and cohesion
on the other.
‘We have this thing about managing your own career, so the
way you manage your own career is that you actually have
to communicate with your line manager what it is you want
to do.’ Senior manager
In general, the entrepreneurial culture in the company is a
great strength and asset towards engaging staff.
The words ‘fairness’ and ‘consistency’ feature repeatedly in
the HR strategy for ConstructionCo. The HR team does not
have a secret formula or elaborate programme of initiatives
for managing people. Instead, they feel it is important
to focus on the traditional core aspects of management
that can form the bedrock on which to build more
entrepreneurial, client-focused activities.
‘I think the sort of fundamentals upon which we should rely
with engaging people are basic things like – are people very
clear about what their job is, what’s expected of them, how
they are to be measured, trusting their line manager, all of
those issues, I think, whilst they might be fairly boring, and
we have been talking about them for years, actually they are
the true drivers of engagement.’ Senior HR manager
Despite the core focus on traditional management concerns,
ConstructionCo does have a set of what might be called
‘progressive’ HR practices. These include the employee
referral scheme mentioned earlier, a graduate training
programme and a mentoring process. However, in each of
these initiatives fairness and equity in their implementation
are stressed throughout. This in turn flows into the kind of
trusting relationship with clients that is so important in the
consultancy sector.
‘You save money, you save grief, you save people’s emotion,
you save risk, you save all of these things if you treat your
employees fairly.’ Senior HR manager
There is one main caveat with the management approach
at ConstructionCo. The relative informality of management
processes, coupled with a flat management structure, has
the potential to create some uncertainty of job role and
‘We don’t have formulated, formal, typed job descriptions…
[and these] sort of issues actually cause us, now we are a
large company, quite a headache in terms of making sure
that we know what people are doing and that they’re
working in accordance and being measured accordingly.’
Senior HR manager
Over the coming year, ConstructionCo will need to
pay careful attention to job design and the creation of
management responsibilities that are unambiguous and,
more fundamentally, still carry the underlying tenets of
fairness and consistency.
Following the positive commentary above, it is not surprising
that organisational advocacy is high at ConstructionCo.
This feeds from the consistent approach to people
management and the flexibility and opportunity inherent
in the entrepreneurial culture. Questionnaire responses
suggested that employees are very proud to work for the
firm. Employees have an emotional connection to their work
and find their tasks intellectually stimulating.
‘I think the majority of people passionately care about what
they do in our business. They wouldn’t go the extra mile
quite as often as they do if they didn’t passionately care
about what they do…that’s what I would call emotional
attachment.’ Senior manager
‘You’ve got to remember what a great company it is, what
great people there are within the organisation, what it has
achieved, it’s been excellent.’ Middle manager
The high-profile nature of some of the company’s projects
reinforces the pride and willingness of employees to
broadcast the benefits of their company. Everyone wants to
work for a successful and reputable organisation; it is clear
that ConstructionCo employees feel their company is both of
these things and they are proud to call it their own.
One surprising area that needs attention in ConstructionCo
is the extent of collaborative idea-sharing. The company is
forward-looking but sometimes this means that teams and
departments do not share knowledge and ideas about how
things are working and how they might be improved. As one
manager noted:
‘We probably don’t talk about improvements enough, is
the honest answer. Part of our culture is about inwardly
challenging but inevitably sometimes it’s easier to do the job
the way you did it last time.’ Senior manager
There are various involvement initiatives in the organisation
for staff to interact with managers but they are not
strategically coherent or widely understood. For example,
some employees said there was a suggestion scheme
in place, but others said that it has been discontinued.
Confusion like this could benefit from some attention.
Although employees felt they worked in a supportive
environment, there was some mismatch in expectation over
social activities outside work.
‘Some departments have a great team spirit but in others it’s
like, if someone wants to organise a ten pin bowling night,
you know something local, down the pub, a quiz night, all
the ideas have been floated but people don’t seem willing to
do it and it’s a great shame because it really does bond the
team, creates friendships, new relationships, if people are
willing to do it but they just don’t seem willing.’
Senior manager
To overcome this issue, the HR department was leading by
example by starting a reorganisation of the HR function to
explore how idea-sharing could be improved.
Employee work–life balance is a challenging HR
consideration at ConstructionCo. In the engagement
survey this was generally perceived to be good, but many
employees had a more moderate view. Many staff feel
compelled to work long hours due to the sheer amount of
work going on. The highly interactive nature of relationships
with clients is a source of increased pressure. Furthermore,
with such ambitious growth targets for the company, this
problem is likely to increase in the future.
‘What came out of last year’s staff survey was that people
wanted more work–life balance and that they perceived that
there was a long-hours culture.’ HR manager
The HR team is aware of this problem and is trying to tackle
it through the staff appraisal process. Managers are being
encouraged to consult with their staff about what would
make their work–life balance better. However, this is likely
to be one of the downsides of a fast-moving organisation
during business growth.
Following the engagement survey, the HR team at
ConstructionCo decided to address the low work–life
balance amongst the workforce. Two days’ extra leave were
added to staff holiday allowances, and health checks, a
dental plan and employee assistance programme have been
introduced to help ensure employees do not burn out.
A final issue that could be improved in ConstructionCo is the
impression employees have of senior managers, particularly
in terms of their visibility and quality of communication. This
issue was somewhat frustrating for the senior management
team because they felt they had put a huge amount of
effort into improving this over recent years.
‘We have a bi-annual manager conference…we have a
newsletter called HR Matters, which is something that goes
out with the payslips…. We put different posters up on a
weekly basis…we have the most amazing intranet…we
have [ConstructionCo] Matters, which is a quarterly glossy
magazine that goes out to all employees.’
Senior HR manager
Surveys often find that employees’ views of senior managers
are less favourable than their perceptions of immediate line
managers. However, in ConstructionCo, senior managers
are vitally important for setting the strategic direction. The
management structure is relatively flat and, therefore, in
theory there should be less distance between non-managers
and senior managers. The senior management team will
be responding to this following a management conference
in the coming year. They are also planning to increase the
emphasis on activities such as directors’ surgeries – where
staff are given the opportunity to meet senior managers;
and by offering staff training and e-learning so that non-
managers can appreciate the role of managers while also
learning important leadership skills.
Going back to the reflection of the employee engagement
manager at ConstructionCo, the company is already doing
many things well and currently has an elevated level of
engagement. However, there are areas of weakness that need
attention. Careful attention is needed to shape engagement
initiatives around the future growth of the company.
In our research, we have collected data from over 5,200
employees across eight different organisations. The picture
that has emerged about engagement is rich and complex.
Extent of engagement is higher in the public sector
compared with the private, but private sector employees are
more frequently engaged. Women are more engaged than
men, whereas younger workers are less engaged than older
workers, and those on flexible contracts are more engaged
than others, reflecting the findings of our earlier report (Truss
et al 2006). Those with managerial responsibilities emerge as
being more engaged than other employees.
For all these different employee groups, we have run
statistical tests to uncover what the key drivers of
engagement are. It has emerged very strongly from this
analysis that two factors are more important than any
others in driving up levels of engagement for all groups:
meaningfulness of work and employee voice. The way in
which senior managers communicate with employees is
the third most important driver. Other important factors
are person–job fit, supportive work environment and
management style.
meaningfulness of work•
voice, being able to feed your views upwards•
senior management communication and vision•
supportive work environment•
person–job fit•
line management style•
Taken together, these factors create a virtuous cycle of
engagement processes that employers can reinterpret in
ways that fit with their own organisational context and
circumstances. We note in our study that around one-third of
respondents, 34%, can be classified as the ‘vocal-involved’,
working in jobs they find meaningful and able to express their
views. Since these are the two key drivers of engagement, it is
concerning that this figure is so low, and suggests that there is
much that employers can do to create a more engaging work
environment for their staff. Similarly, 32% can be described
as ‘fit performers’, enjoying high levels of personal well-being
and performing to a high standard. Employers would generally
wish to raise this proportion of their workforce and putting in
place a range of engagement initiatives would help to address
this problem.
However, it is positive to note that the proportion of engaged
employees overall is somewhat higher than has been
found in previous surveys. In part, this may be due to the
self-selected nature of our sample of organisations, which
joined the Kingston Engagement Consortium project out of
an interest in engagement and where it might reasonably
be supposed that engagement strategies would be further
advanced than in other organisational settings. Despite this,
we did find quite wide variations in levels of engagement
and in strategies and approaches to manage engagement,
as emerges strongly from our case studies. These show that
engagement can be managed effectively in different ways,
and that although there are some general prescriptions
of best practice relevant to everyone, the nuances and
implementation will vary from setting to setting.
Our engagement journey has led to some fascinating
insights into employee engagement over the past three
years. We are about to embark upon a new phase, where we
set about trying to answer some of the questions that have
arisen out of the consortium project that we still feel remain
unanswered, using different methodologies and different
approaches to tap into engagement at an even deeper level.
Our management recommendations are:
Understanding your workforce engagement profile is the •
first step to determining how to drive up engagement
Engagement is clearly associated, both in our report and •
in other studies, with high levels of performance, reduced
intent to quit and raised levels of personal well-being. It
is therefore legitimate from a corporate perspective to
prioritise improving levels of employee engagement.
There is a clear need to help create meaning for employees •
in their work; this can be achieved intellectually by
articulating the links between individual jobs and the
broader organisational aims, and emotionally through
sharing an understanding of deeper levels of the purpose
of the organisation.
Employees need to be given opportunities to express •
their views and to know that their opinions will be taken
seriously. This is an activity that needs to involve both
senior and line managers. Our case studies provide some
examples of how organisations in the consortium have
achieved this.
Conclusions and management
Senior managers have an important role to play in •
creating a vision for the organisation and sharing this
with employees, and in being open, transparent and
Engagement levels are affected by the working •
environment. Where employees can see that they have
support from others to help them do their job, there is a
sense of teamwork and they can safely express themselves,
then engagement will be higher.
Matching people to jobs is a critical driver of engagement. •
This is one area where HR professionals can play an
important role helping line managers design jobs
effectively, and develop selection processes that match
individual skills to jobs.
Line managers act as the interface between the •
organisation and the employee, and can do much to
impact on engagement. Another key HR role is therefore
to pay close attention to the selection, development and
performance management of line managers to ensure they
maximise their potential to be engaging leaders.
of work
and vision
Voice, being
able to feed your
views upwards
Figure 22: Employee engagement model
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The data collection for this research has been carried out
over two years and the data reported come from a variety
of sources, such as research evidence, questionnaire surveys,
face-to-face interviews and focus groups.
Early stages of the project included reviewing the academic
and practitioner literature and developing research questions.
A research strategy was devised for conducting a series of
in-depth case studies, each involving a questionnaire survey
and a number of face-to-face interviews. A rigorous process of
questionnaire development was undertaken using the academic
literature, previous research by Kingston University and a pilot
study. Focus groups were also used in some organisations.
In addition to the CIPD, ten organisations joined as members
of the Kingston Employee Engagement Consortium, which
has operated as a research and networking group over the
two-year period. Out of the ten member organisations,
seven participated in the research and data collection, and a
partial dataset was collected from an additional organisation
in collaboration with a master’s student at Kingston
University. The identity of participating organisations is
confidential, but they are generally well-known names from
the following sectors:
government department•
NHS •
local government •
government agency•
The first set of case studies was conducted during 2008;
the first taking place in March, the second in April, the
third in June and the fourth in October. The questionnaire
was standardised across the case studies to allow reliable
comparative analysis. Depending on the type of workforce
being surveyed, the questionnaire was completed online
or in paper format. An interview schedule of work-related
questions was also developed to guide the interview process
in each organisation. An interim report on the preliminary
findings from the first case studies was published with the
CIPD in 2009 (Gatenby et al 2009).
These findings, along with further questions that they raised,
fed into phase two of the research. During 2009, phase two
of our research was conducted, involving the second set of
case studies, the first taking place in January, the second in
March, the third in August and the fourth in September.
For each of the organisations, online and/or paper versions
of the questionnaire were created by the Kingston Business
School research team. They were distributed to our contact
person at the respective organisation (usually the head of HR
or the head of engagement), who organised the distribution
of the survey to the staff. Employees were encouraged to
participate in the engagement survey and asked to complete
the questionnaires within two weeks. The online version of
the survey was created on SurveyMonkey, a software tool
that facilitates the development and administration of online
surveys. The data from SurveyMonkey were copied into the
statistical software package, SPSS, by the research team at
Kingston University. The hard-copy questionnaires were sent
back to the research team at Kingston University, where the
data were entered manually into SPSS for analysis.
The items in the questionnaire were derived from three
the previous CIPD employee attitude survey, • Working Life:
Employee attitudes and engagement 2006 (Truss et al
Kingston Job Engagement Inventory (KJEI)©, which was •
developed by the research team and validated through a
pilot study involving 200 respondents
academic research, sourced by the Kingston Business •
School research team.
Two types of item were used in the survey. The first
requested information about the individual respondent,
such as age, gender and education. The second type of item
asked respondents how they think or feel about an issue.
Each of these items followed the same format using a ‘Likert
scale’. This gives respondents the opportunity to choose one
outcome from a range of five. For example:
Please tell us the extent to which you agree or disagree with
the following statement:
My line manager is an effective leader
Strongly disagree
Neither agree nor disagree
Strongly agree
manufacturing •
environmental services •
Each response was scored in the following way:
Response Score
Strongly disagree 1
Disagree 2
Neither agree nor disagree 3
Agree 4
Strongly agree 5
The score was stored in the database to be used for analysis.
A number of the factors that were measured in the
questionnaire, for example employee engagement, are not
easily assessed using only one item. A more effective way to
measure employee engagement is to use a set of items
and take the average score for each person, that is, the total
score for that person divided by the total number of items.
For example, if we want to measure a particular factor using
two questions, a participant might respond ‘strongly agree’
to one question (a) and ‘agree’ to another (b). This gives
them a score for the factor of 5 + 4 = 9. Their average score
is the sum of the scores divided by the number of items (2),
so 9/2 = 4.5. The 4.5 value is that person’s scale score. This
process is used to create composite scales that have a scale
score for each individual respondent.
Across the eight organisations, 5,291 employees participated
in the engagement survey. Table 4 shows a breakdown of
the sample by a range of sociodemographic criteria.
Table 4: Sample information
Male 58
Female 42
Working status
Full-time 92
Part-time 8
Less than 25 6
25–34 21
35–44 29
45–54 29
55 and over 15
White 90
Mixed 2
Asian or Asian British 2
Black or Black British 3
Chinese 1
Other ethnic group 2
Management role
Managing employees 43
Not managing employees 57
Educational qualifications
No qualifications 8
Other job-related qualifications 6
GCSE or equivalent 21
A-levels or equivalent 13
Other higher education below degree level 16
Degree or equivalent and above 36
PlasticCo 9
ConstructionCo 3
NorthTrust 8
GovDep 11
LocalGov 23
ServiceCo 22
EnvironmentCo 20
ScienceCo 4
Union membership
Union member 42
Non-union member 58
Working hours
Less than 37.5 31
37.5–46 49
47–50 13
More than 50 7
Mean comparisons
Mean comparisons are used to segment a dataset so that
differences between subgroups can be examined, for example
the mean levels of engagement for men as compared with
women. Comparisons can then be made to see whether
there are important differences, such as whether women
are significantly more highly engaged than men. The data
for mean comparisons were examined to see whether the
differences between each group were statistically significant.
Differences in results for any two groups can be:
real differences that are unlikely to have occurred by chance•
differences that have occurred by chance•
small or no differences at all.•
Statistical testing enables researchers to examine for real,
or statistically significant, differences between groups. As
a guide, please note that results for different sub-groups
generally need to differ by a certain number of percentage
points for the difference to be statistically significant,
although this will depend on the size of the sub-group
sample and the percentage finding itself. The tests were
performed with a 5% significance level, which means that
95% of the time when we find a significant difference there
is an actual difference in the population. Where differences
between two groups are reported, this is because we found
them to be significant in this way.
Educational qualifications
No qualifications 8
Other job-related qualifications 6
GCSE or equivalent 21
A-levels or equivalent 13
Other higher education below degree level 16
Degree or equivalent and above 36
PlasticCo 9
ConstructionCo 3
NorthTrust 8
GovDep 11
LocalGov 23
ServiceCo 22
EnvironmentCo 20
ScienceCo 4
Correlation analyses were used to examine the strength and
direction of association between two variables. For example,
age and engagement are significantly and positively
associated – engagement increases with age.
Another form of analysis that was used is regression analysis.
This enables us to explore the relationship between two sets
of variables: input or predictor variables, and outcome or
dependent variables. We wanted to know which variables
best predict outcomes such as engagement and performance.
The predictor variables are nine of the scales that assessed
perceptions of work and work environment:
employees’ satisfaction with HR policies and practices•
senior managers’ style of communication•
senior managers’ effectiveness•
line managers’ respect for and treatment of employees•
having opportunities to get involved in matters that affect •
individuals’ work
feeling that the job is personally meaningful•
having clear objectives•
getting the right support from colleagues and supervisors•
feeling of being in the right job.•
The nine scales were chosen because they have been
identified in previous research as the key factors associated
with engagement. Each scale is itself representative of
several issues. For example, managers’ respect for and
treatment of employees encompasses whether a manager
listens to ideas and suggestions, whether they make
employees feel valued and whether they communicate
effectively. The breadth of each scale needs to be considered
when looking at the results of the regression analyses.
These variables were examined in relation to engagement
with work. Engagement was measured using the Kingston
Job Engagement Inventory, which has three components:
social engagement•
affective engagement•
intellectual engagement.•
In this report, these components were aggregated into an
overall measure of engagement. Moreover, our measure
of engagement also included two dimensions, extent and
Next, analysis focused on the relationship between the
nine organisational and management scales, and employee
engagement (the input variables) and five dependent, or
outcome, variables:
individual performance•
innovative work behaviour•
intention to quit•
work sustainability•
employee well-being.•
Regression analysis examines the likelihood of association
between variables, that is, the degree to which the relationship
is likely to have occurred by chance. A signicant relationship
is one that is highly unlikely to have occurred by chance and
is therefore important. Regression also shows the direction of
association between variables. A positive association is when
a high score on one variable is associated with a high score
on the second variable, for example high levels of perceived
meaningfulness of work being associated with high levels of
engagement with work. A negative association is when a high
score on one variable is associated with a low score on the
other variable, for example high levels of perceived engagement
with work being associated with lack of intention to leave an
organisation. In sum, regression equations show which of the
input variables best predict the value of the dependent variable.
Issued: January 2010 Reference: 5097
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... Robinson et al (2004) for example perceive engagement as " one step up from commitment' and as a result suggest that it has the appearance of being yet another trend, or what some might call " old wine in a new bottle. " Whilst one could take this point of view, regardless of definitions, the growing evidence that harnessing these factors has a positive effect on the individual and the organization is hard to ignore (MacLeod and Brady 2008; MacLeod and Clarke 2009; Alfes et al 2010). It is perhaps fitting to then acknowledge the interplay between the actions of the individual and organization in defining engagement. ...
... t employee engagement to be related to individuals' attitudes intentions and behaviours. Establishing an engaged workforce is now a high priority for many organizations as they feel that engaged employees outperform others by showing heightened interest in their work and are prepared to 'go the extra mile' for their organization (Gatenby et al 2009). Alfes et al (2010indicate that there is a general agreement of the value of an engaged workforce both in respect of organizational success and individual wellbeing; Halbesleben (2011) highlights the importance of the consequences of engagement in organisational searches for cost effective methods to improve performance and Attridge MacLeod and Clarke 200 ...
... Establishing an engaged workforce is now a high priority for many organizations as they feel that engaged employees outperform others by showing heightened interest in their work and are prepared to 'go the extra mile' for their organization (Gatenby et al 2009). Alfes et al (2010indicate that there is a general agreement of the value of an engaged workforce both in respect of organizational success and individual wellbeing; Halbesleben (2011) highlights the importance of the consequences of engagement in organisational searches for cost effective methods to improve performance and Attridge MacLeod and Clarke 2009; Gatenby et al 2009 and Alfes et al 2010). Ott (2007comments that the Gallup surveys present strong evidence that highly engaged work groups within companies outperform groups with lower engagement levels and found critical links between employee engagement, customer loyalty, business growth and profitability. ...
Full-text available
... In general, it refers to the existence of " a climate that encourages employees to put forward their ideas and opinions, and the extent to which influence is associated with choice, that is, whether employee ideas and opinions really affect the outcome of decisions " (Farndale et al., 2011, p. 114). Studies that have identified key drivers of engagement have noted the importance of employee voice and communication mechanisms in ensuring that employees feel that they are well informed about what is going on within their organizations and that they are in a position to feed their views upward (Alfes, Truss, Soane, Rees, & Gatenby, 2010; Farndale et al., 2011; Marchington & Kynighou, 2012; Rees et al., 2013; Truss et al., 2006). Voice mechanisms have been associated with positive outcomes because it is believed they provide employees with a sense of direction and control over demands in their work (Karasek, 1979). ...
... In line with previous research on emotional exhaustion and engagement (e.g.,